On anniversary of perfect game, Randy Johnson’s intensity stands out

May 18, 2020, 3:30 PM
Arizona's #51 Randy Johnson is swarmed by teammates after pitching a perfect game against the Atlan...
Arizona's #51 Randy Johnson is swarmed by teammates after pitching a perfect game against the Atlanta Braves May 18, 2004, at Turner Field, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Rex Brown/WireImage)
(Photo by Rex Brown/WireImage)

The 2020 version of Randy Johnson is docile. In interviews, he’s talkative. In his free time, he indulges in photography.

The 2004 version of Johnson, then a pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, didn’t come off the same way.

Johnson threw the first and only perfect game in Diamondbacks history on May 18, 2004. He did it on the road against the Atlanta Braves, and the game started off with a bunt attempt up the first base line that Shea Hillenbrand fielded himself.

“My thought is, why in the heck would anybody want to bunt off Randy?” Hillenbrand asked when he joined Doug & Wolf on Monday to recall the special occasion. “Because he’s going to put it in their earhole the next at-bat [for] trying to make him look stupid knowing that he can’t get over. Randy’s one of the only guys I played with that would throw at his son in a father-son game.”

As guests joined Arizona Sports throughout the day to recall the masterpiece, they spoke about him with reverence yet remembered his intensity.

“He operated at a superhuman level,” Hillenbrand said. “You couldn’t even talk to Randy the day before the game. My locker was right nextdoor to Randy’s for two years and I talked to him probably for a total of one hour in two years. Randy is so intense.”

No matter who is on the mound, baseball superstition forbids players from pestering pitchers during perfect games or no-hitters that are in-progress. Of course, that was especially the case with Johnson, a future Hall of Famer, on the mound.

“I don’t think it was any different from the games he pitched,” Luis Gonzalez recalled to Bickley & Marotta. “Everybody kind of stayed away from him anyway. The only thing different was guys didn’t move from where they were sitting and they kind of tried to stay in the same routine. Guys are very superstitious, so they didn’t want to do something that was going to be somebody calling them out saying, ‘He lost it because you moved or you stood up that inning and didn’t do it the last inning,’ things like that.”

Johnson’s intimidation factor surely kept teammates on their toes, but it helped him in the heat of competition when facing opposing hitters. Gonzalez recalled facing Johnson twice when he played for other teams.

“I remember I faced him when I was with the Tigers in Seattle and I think I punched out three times in that game, it wasn’t a very comfortable game,” Gonzalez said. “Later on, I faced him again, I think it was with Houston, I’m not 100% sure.

“And he drilled me. Nice teammate, right?”

Laughing through the memories of Johnson’s intensity, guests fondly remembered what a big moment the veteran pitcher provided for the struggling team in what was a bad 2004 season for the Diamondbacks.

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