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'Big Unit' Soars In Home Debut


The Big Unit made a big entrance in his home debut for the Astros.
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  • Randy Johnson thrilled a record crowd with a five-hitter for his 20th career shutout in his Astrodome debut, leading the Houston Astros to a 9-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday night.

    "I know what rock stars feel like after walking out to the bullpen before the game," Johnson said. "I'm used to maybe 200 people watching me warm up in Seattle. When you've got 50,000 fans doing that when you first come out, that's exciting."

    Johnson, 2-0 with Houston after going 9-10 with Seattle, helped attract 52,071 fans, the most ever for a regular-season game in the Astrodome.

    He got thunderous cheers when he was introduced. He was obtained July 31 and pitched seven innings for a victory against Pittsburgh last Sunday in his first NL game since 1989.

    "I was overwhelmed by the attention I got," Johnson said. "Even when I'm not out there, fans should support this team because it's championship caliber. I've been on the AL West championship team with the Mariners, and this team has the same type of character. It's exciting to be a part of that."

    Johnson didn't let the Phillies off the hook.

    "I've faced him in three periods, when he was at Montreal, Seattle and now," Phillies outfielder Gregg Jefferies said. "At Montreal, he was just 'Here it comes.' He just threw pure gas. At Seattle he started to learn that slider.

    "But this Randy Johnson is the best one I've seen. He's mastered the slider and his changeup is great too. And of course, he throws 95, 96, 97 all the ime. He's become an unbelievable pitcher."

    Jeff Bagwell homered twice to raise his season total to 25, hitting a three-run homer in the third and a solo shot in the sixth. It was Bagwell's third multihomer game this season, the 14th of his career.

    "I was very surprised that (Johnson) has tremendous control and I was very surprised at how fast he works," Bagwell said. "He wants to get the ball and go to work. That's unusual for a strikeout pitcher. But it's a pleasure to work with."

    Johnson, making just his 12th NL start, struck out eight and walked one, getting his third shutout of the season.

    "I don't walk on water," Johnson said. "In due time I will get roughed up. But for now, this is nice. The true test will come when I face these teams again after they've made adjustments."

    After a leadoff double by Kevin Sefcik in the third, Johnson retired nine straight before pinch-hitter Ruben Amaro beat out an infield hit in the sixth.

    The Astrodome's previous record crowd during the regular season was 51,526 on May 16 against Atlanta. In last year's playoffs, Houston set its postseason record by drawing 53,688 against the Braves.

    Bagwell's third-inning homer off Mike Welch (0-2) gave the Astros a 3-0 lead. Moises Alou hit his 29th in the fourth inning, a two-run drive.

    Bill Spiers got three straight hits for the Astros and scored two runs.

    Alou, a member of the world champion Florida Marlins last season, is getting the same playoff feeling.

    "It does bring back memories," Alou said. "He brings a different atmosphere to the club. Now we can start thinking about the playoffs. Once we get there, we have to play good, stay healthy and get a little bit lucky.

    "If we can get there, I like our chances. This man has brought some excitement to the team and to the city."

    Notes

  • Astros closer Billy Wagner returned to the roster Friday night for the first time since he was struck in the head by a liner by Arizona's Kelly Stinnett on July 15.
  • The Phillies have rallied to win 33 games this season. Twice, they've recovered from seven-run deficits.

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