Whether or not he wins the Cy Young Award, Randy Johnson produced one of the greatest strikeout seasons baseball has ever seen.
In his final tuneup for the playoffs, The Big Unit tied Nolan Ryan's major league record for most double-digit strikeout games in a season, fanning 11 in seven innings as the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the San Diego Padres 5-3 Thursday night.
Johnson (17-9) struck out at least 10 batters 23 times this season to tie the record Ryan set with the California Angels in 1973.
The 364 strikeouts by Johnson this season were the fourth-most in major league history. The only pitchers to strike out more were Ryan with 383 in 1973, Sandy Koufax with 382 in 1965 and Ryan with 367 in 1974.
"To put myself in that category is obviously nice," Johnson said. "It's been a real nice year for me. There are a lot of things that I haven't done in my career that I did this year innings pitched and complete games and strikeouts. Now I'm thinking about the postseason and my next start. Overall I was pretty pleased with this year. I just need to be a little more focused my next start."
"He threw some pitches tonight I've never seen him throw," San Diego's Tony Gwynn said. "He ran a fastball in and it almost broke my thumb. He's probably the toughest guy in the league to have to face."
Johnson's performance ensured him the lowest ERA in the National League at 2.48. The biggest obstacle to a Cy Young would be his record, tarnished by several games in which his team failed to provide him with runs.
Matt Mantei pitched the ninth for his 31st save of the season, 21 of them since he was traded to Arizona.
With their eighth victory in nine games, the Diamondbacks pulled three games ahead of Houston and Cincinnati with three games to play in the race for home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Arizona owns the tiebreaker against Houston but not against Cincinnati.
"Going out flat the first inning like tonight can't happen in the postseason, especially in a five-game series, so I need to be a little more focused, but I'm sure I will be," Johnson said.
Veras hit Johnson's second pitch of the game into the Arizona bullpen in left field, the third leadoff first-inning homer for Veras this month. Reggie Sanders doubled, then Owens hit his ninth homer, also into the Diamondbacks' pen, and the Padres had a quick 3-0 lead.
"We were doing what we wanted to do score early," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said. "When you get three off Johnson in the first inning, you're doing quite a job. We didn't do much after that. He pitched like he has all year."
After Hanley Frias led off with a single, San Diego shortstop Damian Jackson dropped the throw from second baseman Veras on Jay Bell's routine double-play grounder. Colbrunn then hit his fifth homer of the season.
The Diamondbacks went ahead 4-3 in the second. Kelly Stinnett singled, then Dante Powell beat out a throw following his grounder to avoid a double play. Powell stole second and took off to third on a hit-and-run play, scoring easily on Hanley Frias' singled to left.
Arizona got another ruon Bell's bases-loaded single in the sixth.
Hitchcock, 1-6 in his last nine starts, allowed five runs and nine hits in 5 1-3 innings. He struck out five and walked three.
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