Johnson attends World Championship Reunion
(Photo by Barry Gossage/Arizona Diamondbacks)
By Greg Dillard
It was a rousing scene that’s forever etched in the minds of thousands of D-backs fans.
The left field bullpen gate swung open and out walked Randy Johnson. The Big Unit began a slow trot to the mound in the seventh game of the 2001 World Series, just one day after pitching his team to a 15-2 win in Game Six.
The left-hander came on in relief during Game Seven of the 2011 World Series against the Yankees. Johnson was the winning pitcher not only in that decisive seventh game, but went 3-0 in the Fall Classic in two starts and the lone relief appearance. In that stretch, he notched a 1.04 ERA with 19 strikeouts.
In his first start in Game Two, he unleashed a three-hit shutout against the Yankees. When the series returned to Phoenix for Game Six, it was Johnson who kept the D-backs’ season alive.
“We came back from New York, and now we are down 3-2,” Johnson said. “I pitched against Andy Pettite again and you know we kind of locked up with him for a couple innings and then we scratched across a few runs. The next thing you know, we had a pretty comfortable lead, and then I come out after seven innings.”
The dominant left-hander allowed just two runs while scattering six hits and striking out seven in seven innings of work.
“I don’t even think I grabbed a towel or caught my breath,” Johnson said, “and then (manager Bob) Brenly says, ‘Do you think you could pitch tomorrow in relief?’ So I said, ‘sure.’ That was me not knowing physically whether I could or not.”
It turned out that he could in fact pitch one night later when his team needed him. Johnson was his usual self as he retired all four of the Yankee batters he faced.
Ten years after that World Series, the Big Unit returned to Chase Field on Saturday to take part in the D-backs’ World Championship Reunion Weekend. Johnson, along with fellow World Series Co-MVP Curt Schilling and D-backs founder Jerry Colangelo, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
For Johnson, it’s hard to believe that 2001 was 10 years ago.
“It’s really crazy to think that it’s been 10 years since we won a World Series,” Johnson said. “I had a few of the guys over to the house last night for a little cookout with their families, and we were thinking about how fast 10 years has gone by.”
The reunion featured many members of the team, as well as 2001 manager Bob Brenly, former General Manager Joe Gargiola Jr., former president Rich Dozer, and Colangelo. The event allowed Johnson to reconnect with teammates that he hasn’t seen in years.
“When you have something like this, first of all (it’s great) being back and seeing everybody that you haven’t seen,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of people that I run into in town: Mark Grace and Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams and Jay Bell, and Tony Womack I’ve played golf with a few times. But there are other people that I don’t see because they don’t live close by. The Erik Sabels, the Troy Brohawns, the Greg Colbrunns … so it’s nice to see them.”
The 2001 season was a special one for the D-backs and the state of Arizona. The team featured a plethora of veterans who all shared the common goal of winning a world championship.
“The team that played back in 2001, Mr. Colangelo built to win then,” Johnson said. “It came together and we were all kind of the same age, much older than this team now.”
Johnson and the D-backs find themselves celebrating the only major championship in Arizona history at a time when the 2011 D-backs are 8.5 games ahead of the Giants for first place in the NL West. Much like 2001, this year’s squad has enjoyed no shortage of success on the baseball diamond.
“This team has gelled long enough where you’ve got Chris Young and Justin Upton that have come up together and a handful of other people that have been here,” Johnson said. “Then you make some nice trades that solidify the team. But the bottom line is being able to score some runs (and shut down) the opposing team. From this point on, it’s just a matter of staying healthy and getting to the playoffs.”
Also similar to 2001, this year’s pitching staff has been anchored by not one, but two stellar starters. Johnson and Schilling pitched the D-backs to success 10 seasons ago, and this year it’s Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson doing the same.
“Daniel is still pretty young as a pitcher,” Johnson said. “But he’s making strides to becoming that pitcher that this organization had hopes that he could be. I know that first-hand because I’ve talked to a few of the people here and I’ve talked to Daniel. He’s a bright, young pitcher. The good thing here is he has Ian ahead of him and they can trade off ideas. The one thing when you’re in a rotation like that is if you have a good day or a bad day it’s fun to have another pitcher of that caliber (to) bounce ideas off … good, better and different.”
Although it seems like just yesterday, the 2001 World Championship came 10 years ago. Yet it’s something that Johnson will not soon forget.
“It was a special year, it really was,” Johnson said. “I think that’s one thing you’ll get from everybody that you interview is it was a special year, a lot of fun. There’s some intangible there that you can’t put your hand on why that year is so much more special than say the year 2002. Things just clicked and you can’t always put your finger on it.”