Johnson silences Braves, 2-0

Ace strikes out 11 in 3-hitter as D'backs take Game 1 of NLCS

`I knew what I wanted to do'

Counsell, Sanders lift Arizona's offense

Maddux is out-dueled

October 17, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | By Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

PHOENIX - In an effort to prod yesterday's crowd into making some noise, as if what unfolded on the field couldn't generate a suitable response, the video screen at Bank One Ballpark showed a bottle being pulled from an infant's mouth. A more appropriate image would have been Randy Johnson taking candy from a baby.

He made it look that easy.

One by one, they returned to the visitors' dugout, the same expressions sweeping across the faces of the Atlanta Braves. They were bewildered, frustrated, clueless. And after the last batter had been dismissed, they were trailing the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series.

Johnson allowed three hits, two coming in the ninth with the Braves down to their last strike, and retired 20 in a row as part of a Game 1 masterpiece that ended in a 2-0 Diamondbacks' victory. Chipper Jones reached in the first inning when Arizona's Matt Williams threw late to first base after failing to pull down a line drive. The ball, which Williams scrambled for after it slipped out of his glove, arrived at the bag at the same time as Jones.

The other singles, from Julio Franco and Jones, were much cleaner. Franco's shot through the hole was between shortstop and third, Jones' was lined into center field. Johnson struck out at least one batter every inning, including Brian Jordan for the final out, and his only walk occurred in the eighth. Johnson's seven consecutive hitless innings tied former Oriole Dave McNally's LCS record set on Oct. 5, 1969.

That game lasted 11 innings. Johnson didn't require more than regulation could offer.

"He was locked in, he was focused," said Arizona manager Bob Brenly, noting that Johnson threw only 85 pitches through seven innings before needing 40 more to complete the shutout. "He had a real good game plan and he just went out and executed it."

With closer Byung-Hyun Kim warming up in the bullpen, Johnson recorded his 11th strikeout to strand the tying runs and avoid getting the hook. "We thought about it," Brenly said, "but nobody on the bench wanted to go out and tell Randy he was coming out of the game, so that kind of ended that."

The mere mention of Johnson's name can cause an opposing manager to make changes. For Atlanta's Bobby Cox, that meant removing left-handed hitting B.J. Surhoff from left field and replacing him with Bernard Gilkey, who didn't appear in the Division Series and most likely will return to the bench tonight.

There weren't enough cards in Atlanta's deck for all the shuffling Cox needed to do against Johnson, who threw 21 strikes among his first 30 pitches. He blew fastballs past hitters who were looking for them. He mixed in sliders and the occasional splitter, once causing Franco to lose the grip on his bat, which sailed 10 rows deep into the seats beside Arizona's dugout.

"I was extremely calm today, very focused," Johnson said. "I knew what I wanted to do. You can know the pitches you want to throw, but you have to execute them. I'm as prepared as anybody. I watched videotape today of games that I pitched against the Braves last year and this year, but it's all about executing pitches."

It got to where Johnson didn't need to watch the flight of the ball. As Steve Finley moved back for one in the seventh inning, Johnson kicked at the mound with his head lowered, his mind already centered on the next hitter.

"You could see he was on with everything he was doing," said Arizona second baseman Craig Counsell.

This was only the second matchup between Johnson and Greg Maddux, the previous one coming Sept. 2, 1998 while the Big Unit pitched for the Houston Astros. He won that game, as well, 4-2.

In his career, Johnson was 3-4 with a 5.17 ERA against the Braves. He had lost seven consecutive postseason decisions since twice defeating the New York Yankees in the 1995 American League Division Series.

"Someone might say, `Is this is a monkey off your back?' This is more like a gorilla - King Kong," Johnson said. "It wasn't weighing on me, but I felt like I was going to continue hearing about this until I won a ballgame. It's unfortunate, but I guess those are the expectations put on myself when I go out there."

When Johnson needed assistance yesterday, he found it. Shortstop Tony Womack made a leaping catch to rob Franco in the fourth, an inning that ended with Finley running down a drive in left-center field. Atlanta's Marcus Giles twice sent Reggie Sanders to the fence in right field.

"We hit enough balls good to generate a few runs with a bounce here or there," Cox said, "but he pitched great."

The Diamondbacks provided Johnson a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Counsell singled to left and took third when Giles couldn't backhand a smash up the middle by Luis Gonzalez, the ball scooting under his glove for an error. Sanders followed with a single into center field for his sixth hit in the playoffs.

Defensively, Maddux appeared to be his usual self, twice starting double plays in the first two innings to set an NLCS record for a pitcher. But the Diamondbacks also reached him for four hits during that span, all of them loud.

The game's other run came in the fifth on a one-out double by Counsell and a Gonzalez single into right field. Maddux lasted two more innings, his postseason record falling to 10-12. He's lost five of six career decisions against Arizona.

Today's games

AL Championship Series

New York vs. Seattle (Series opener)

New York (Pettitte 15-10) at Seattle (Sele 15-5), 4:20 p.m., chs. 45, 5

NL Championship Series

Atlanta vs. Arizona (Arizona leads series 1-0)

Atlanta (Glavine 16-7) at Arizona (Batista 11-8), 8:20 p.m., chs. 45, 5

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