Is there a more intimidating presence in baseball than Randy Johnson, the Seattle Mariners' heat-slinging ace who brings grown men to their knees -- or drives them to the bench without raising a hand?
Even the game's best hitters have asked for the night off when Johnson pitches, preferring the safety of the dugout to potential embarrassment and harm, both to their bodies and their batting averages. But no one is invincible.
Superman has his kryptonite. Randy Johnson has Chris Hoiles.
The Orioles catcher may not own Johnson, but he's racking up a huge rental fee. Hoiles is batting .321 (9-for-28) lifetime off the 6-foot-10 left-hander, with four home runs and 12 RBIs. In two games this year, Hoiles has two homers, a double, two walks and nine RBIs.
Johnson, who will pitch against Scott Kamieniecki in the first game of a day-night doubleheader today, has 18 strikeouts in his 11 innings against the Orioles this season. He had gotten Hoiles just once.
"I have no idea why or how," Hoiles said, shaking his head. "He's probably the nastiest guy in all of baseball to face. I don't even know what the numbers are."
They don't suffer once the Big Unit leaves a game. Hoiles had two more hits, including a homer, off the Mariners' bullpen in games Johnson started this season.
He took Bob Wells deep in the eighth inning of a rain-delayed, 13-3 victory on May 8, completing a six-RBI night that included a three-run shot off Johnson in the sixth after play had been resumed. He also delivered two runs in the first with a double to left, as Johnson had his streak of consecutive regular-season victories end at 16, one short of the major-league record.
Ten days later at the Kingdome, Hoiles hit a game-tying, three-run homer off Johnson in the fifth inning. The Orioles scored twice in the ninth off Norm Charlton to win, 8-7.
"I think the biggest thing with Randy is to just make sure the ball is a strike," said Hoiles, who is batting .262 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs. "He likes to throw the ball up in the zone a lot and that's how he gets a lot of his strikeouts. That's actually the ball you see the best because it's closer to your eyes, but it's actually the worst ball to swing at against him. Try to bring the ball down and swing at strikes. But when the guy's throwing in the upper 90's with a nasty slider, sometimes that's the hardest thing to do."
"He's not comfortable at all for left-handed hitters," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said. "He's not comfortable at all for right-handed hitters, but at least you've got a chance."
Randy Johnson, locked in a spirited race with Toronto's Roger Clemens for the Cy Young Award, exudes confidence, but his air of invincibility goes a little flat when confronted by the Orioles.
He has won 41 of his last 46 decisions, but is 3-6 lifetime vs. the Orioles. He gave up nine runs and walked 10 in his first two starts against them this year, and nobody tormented him more than Hoiles.
"I don't know if maybe he's the rare exception that he sees the ball well off Randy. Sometimes, there's something in a guy's delivery you get comfortable with. He's been a guy in their lineup that has really hurt us," Mariners catcher Dan Wilson said.
"We've talked about him and try to make some adjustments and go from there. We spend a little more time talking about him."
No matter how many battles he has won against Johnson, Hoiles doesn't look forward to a matchup with him.
"He's definitely a guy I could go the whole year without seeing, every year," Hoiles said. "He's the one guy in the American League you hope you don't draw. Even when you play a four-game series, you hope he pitched the day before so you miss him totally."
Hoiles hasn't missed against Johnson very often.
Pub Date: 8/15/97