No longer just intimidating, Johnson's the best


June 07, 1995|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

It took one pitch in the All-Star Game here two years ago for John Kruk to find out who was the most intimidating pitcher in baseball.

But nobody then was quite ready to say that Randy Johnson was the best in the game. That has changed, as the Orioles were reminded Monday night at Camden Yards.

"He's not just the most intimidating, he's the best pitcher in baseball," Seattle manager Lou Piniella said without fear of contradiction. "He doesn't just throw it up there 95 miles per hour -- he knows what he's doing, and he throws strikes."

That wasn't always the case with Johnson. When he broke into the big leagues, first with Montreal and then Seattle, the adjectives weren't as complimentary.

Erratic, eccentric, scatter-armed and unorthodox were a few of the favorites. At 6 feet 10, he made hitters uncomfortable, especially left-handers, which Kruk found out when a high, inside fastball had his body spinning and heart pounding.

Johnson's act is now under control, and the most heard words of description are unbeatable, unhittable, overpowering, dominating . . . and intimidating.

Just how intimidating?

"Well, he gets half your lineup out of there before you even start," said Orioles hitting coach Lee May. "That tells you something right there."

May was referring to the fact that few, if any left-handed hitters, are even in the lineup against Johnson. He is so dominating that manager Phil Regan kept Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro and Harold Baines, three of the Orioles' most productive hitters, on the bench.

The lone left-handed hitter to face Johnson Monday night was Curtis Goodwin. It was an experience the rookie hardly enjoyed, but one he's not likely to forget. Goodwin accounted for four of the 12 strikeouts Johnson recorded.

Johnson (6-0) has started nine games this year and the Mariners have won them all. After the 2-0 loss two nights ago, Regan was comparing Johnson to Sandy Koufax, the most dominating and intimidating pitcher of the last half-century.

In the visitors' clubhouse, Piniella was citing Nolan Ryan as the most intimidating pitcher he had faced as

a player. "And for one inning, you could put [Goose] Gossage in that class," said Piniella.

For one inning, Johnson can be awesome. The difference, as the Orioles found out, is that inning can be any between the first and ninth. He threw 140 pitches, routine for him, and struck out the side in the ninth Monday night.

At the end, he was throwing harder than he was in the first inning. "I'm capable of turning up my game a notch in the late innings," said Johnson. "I went into the ninth and wasn't going to blow it."

It's a little scary when a guy can pitch eight scoreless innings and then turn it up a notch. But then, that's probably the best word yet to describe "Big Unit."

He's the scariest pitcher around.

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