Randy Johnson pitching against the Orioles at Camden Yards last night looked entirely like something you would see in Little League, the kid who hit puberty early and dominates his peers, who are overmatched and undersized -- and possibly terrified.
The Mariners left-hander struck out 12 and shut out the Orioles, 2-0, on just three hits and one walk, before 36,732 for his first win in four decisions in Baltimore.
"I don't know if I'd compare him to [Sandy] Koufax yet," said Orioles manager Phil Regan, a former teammate of the Los Angeles Dodgers great. "But he was close."
Orioles starter Ben McDonald, pitching just hours after his arbitration case was heard but not decided at a nearby hotel, pitched a five-hitter and made just two mistakes in nine innings.
McDonald's first mistake was a fastball to Jay Buhner, thrown too much over the middle of the plate and hit too far over the left-field stands.
McDonald's second mistake was pitching on the same night as Johnson, who began the game with a 5-0 record and a 2.16 ERA, with 70 strikeouts in his first 50 innings.
He started against the Orioles on May 26 and struck out 13 in 6 2/3 innings. He was awesome that night; seven of the nine hitters in the Orioles order -- everybody except for second baseman Bret Barberie and right fielder Kevin Bass -- struck out at least once.
Last night, Johnson was even better.
"Randy Johnson was at his best," said Mariners manager Lou Piniella. "He was getting everything over the plate and with good stuff."
Regan loaded his lineup with right-handed hitters. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro sat; so did Harold Baines, and the injured Brady Anderson. All right-hand hitters to battle stations.
Johnson just blew them away. All of them. The Orioles took half-swings and checked swings and tried, more than anything, just to get a piece of the ball.
Right away, in the first inning, you could see that Johnson was throwing strikes with his slider, which has a break so fantastic that it can be seen from high in the stands (but not very well from 60 feet, 6 inches). Palmeiro said after striking out three times back in May that facing Johnson when he had this type of breaking ball simply wasn't fair.
Cal Ripken ended any no-hit debate when he blooped a single into center in the first inning. Leo Gomez walked in the second inning. Manny Alexander had a broken-bat hit to center in the third. Chris Hoiles lined a single in the fourth, the best Orioles' contact of the night.
The Orioles' Jeff Manto says Johnson wasn't throwing as hard as he did in Seattle. "Yeah," Manto said, "he was throwing 96 mph instead of 100."
Johnson struck out one in each of the first four innings, whiffed the side in the bottom of the fifth. One strikeout in the sixth, one in the seventh, a total of nine going into the ninth.
Orioles rookie Curtis Goodwin led off the ninth. Palmeiro and Baines, longtime veterans, were given the day off, and Goodwin, on his fourth day in the big leagues, played. He had struck out three times already, swinging unsuccessfully at Johnson's slider, looking terrible. Finally, in this last at-bat, Goodwin had learned -- look for the slider on two strikes. Protect against it. Look for the spinner.
But this time, Johnson threw a fastball, a high fastball, and by the time Goodwin twitched to begin his swing, the ball was sunk deep into the mitt of Mariners catcher Dan Wilson.
Bass took a called strike three, the last pitch, a fastball, at 96 mph. The game ended with Ripken looking at strike three.
Alexander and Goodwin lingered in the dugout, Goodwin telling Alexander how confusing it was, he didn't know whether to look for the fastball, the slider, the changeup.
"I don't think," Alexander said, "he wants to face him again."
From the time that Alexander singled to start the third, Johnson faced a minimum of hitters, 21 outs from the next 21 hitters. He threw 140 pitches, 91 of which were strikes.
McDonald was almost as good, cruising through the first five innings. He got two quick outs in the top of the sixth, the second when Ripken gloved a grounder headed for center field and spun 270 degrees and threw to first to nip Alex Diaz.
Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez, assuming the No. 3 hole in the Seattle batting order in the absence of Ken Griffey, hit a single to left. McDonald wasn't in any imminent danger, but Hoiles ambled to the mound to talk.
Hoiles and McDonald both knew that the next two hitters, Buhner and Tino Martinez, had hit McDonald well in the past. Going into the game, Buhner was 7-for-19 with a double and two homers, and Martinez was 7-for-17 with a double and two homers.
Pitching around Buhner would be one possibility, but then they would be putting the potential lead run in scoring position. And on top of that, Martinez had been hot in recent days, hitting .421 in his last four games before last night.
So McDonald went after Buhner. After throwing a ball with his first pitch, McDonald came back with a low fastball. Not a terrible pitch, if Buhner wasn't such a good hitter; the ball was over the middle of the plate, and Buhner crushed it some 20 rows back into the left-field stands. In this duel with Randy Johnson, McDonald had flinched first, though he finished a highly respectable performance with six strikeouts and two walks.
The Mariners had a chance to add a third run in the inning. On a fly ball to left-center, left fielder Bass and center fielder Goodwin closed on the ball simultaneously, and at the last second there was confusion; Goodwin reached out to make a catch, and so did Bass, the ball glancing off Bass and then Goodwin before falling.
McDonald ended the inning himself, however, fielding a chopper back through the middle and throwing out Darren Bragg.
McDonald conceded the mistake to Buhner. "But I'm not too sure it was that big of a mistake," he said.
The way Randy Johnson was pitching, any mistake was a big mistake.
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Mariners' Dave Fleming (1-3, 5.65) vs. Orioles' Jamie Moyer (0-1, 4.80)
Tickets: 13,400 remain