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Published: 5/20/2004

Aged to perfection

AT THE ripe old age of 40, Arizona pitcher Randy Johnson is perfect. The Diamondbacks' big lefty pulled off the rarest of pitching feats in major league baseball - he threw a perfect game Tuesday night in Atlanta. It was the 17th perfect game - 27 batters, 27 outs - in major league history and just the 15th since the start of the modern era in 1900.

The "Big Unit," as he is known, also achieved the distinction of being the oldest player in baseball history to accomplish the feat. He simply refused to act his age when firing off 117 pitches, 87 of them for strikes. But don't mention age to the big left-hander.

"You guys keep saying I'm old," complained the 6-foot, 10-inch pitcher to sportswriters, "and someday I will be." Add the quintessential scowl to the comment and you have classic Johnson - cranky, driven, and one of the most fearsome presences ever on the pitching mound.

A year ago some predicted a knee injury was the beginning of the end for the five-time Cy Young Award winner who has three division championships and a World Series title under his belt. Well, reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated.

Former teammate and formidable right-hander Curt Schilling, now pitching for the Boston Red Sox, said of his buddy, "Guys that play the game at that [Johnson's] level do things other people don't dream of doing. They push themselves."

A perfect game in baseball is not just the pitcher's achievement. His teammates have to handle their defensive positions flawlessly. They did. Even the hometown Braves fans in Atlanta were on their feet in the 9th inning, rooting Johnson on. This, after all, was history, even if it was the other team's guy making it. Fittingly, he ended his masterpiece with his 13th strikeout.

Randy Johnson's Hall of Fame credentials were already in place before Tuesday night. All he did was ensure that he'll join the immortals at Cooperstown the first year he is eligible.



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