Johnson perfect at age 40

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Craig Muder

Diamondbacks catcher Robby Hammock, playing in the 85th game of a career that would total 182 MLB contests, thrust both arms wide as he hugged his starting pitcher.

Randy Johnson, already a virtual lock to become a Hall of Famer, had just finished the 17th perfect game in big league history on May 18, 2004, at Atlanta’s Turner Field. Hammock looked up – Johnson was a foot taller than Hammock – to see Johnson grinning ear-to-ear, a rarity for one of the game’s most intense competitors.

But on this night, Johnson had ample reason to celebrate.

“Not bad for being 40 years old,” said Johnson, whose 2-0 victory represented the 234th win of his career. “Everything was locked in.

“A game like this was pretty special. It doesn’t come along very often.”

Johnson was virtually flawless against a Braves lineup that included future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones and All-Stars like Julio Franco and Andruw Jones. Johnson needed just 117 pitches, striking out 13 while going to a three-ball count on only one hitter. Only one ball – a fifth-inning smash by Andruw Jones – was categorized as a line drive.

“This is one of those nights where a superior athlete was on top of his game,” Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly told the Associated Press. “His focus, his concentration, his stuff – everything was as good as it could possibly be.”

The game marked the second no-hitter of Johnson’s career, the first coming on June 2, 1990, when he was with the Mariners. Johnson walked six batters in that game against the Tigers, and Detroit had a chance to take the lead in the sixth inning with Seattle clinging to a 2-0 lead and Chet Lemon batting for Detroit with the bases loaded – following three walks – and two outs.

Johnson, however, fanned Lemon to end the threat.

Fourteen years later, Johnson became the oldest pitcher to throw a perfect game – surpassing the mark set by 37-year-old Cy Young in 1904. Johnson also became just the fifth pitcher to throw no-hitters in both leagues, joining Jim Bunning, Hideo Nomo, Nolan Ryan and Young.

“This was a legitimate perfect game, any way you slice it,” Braves catcher Johnny Estrada told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You could tell he had a game plan.”

The Diamondbacks gave Johnson all the runs he would need in the second inning when Álex Cintrón doubled home Danny Bautista. Cintrón then doubled the Arizona lead when he scored on a Chad Tracy single in the seventh inning.

Johnson received a standing ovation from the 23,381 fans at Turner Field when he came to bat in the ninth inning – and another when he took the mound in the bottom of the ninth.

“What can you say? You go home and come back tomorrow,” said Braves pinch hitter Eddie Pérez, who struck out to end the game. “He just pitched a great game.”


Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series