It came against the Cincinnati Reds on May 8, in Arizona. The AP summarized:
Randy Johnson got 20 strikeouts, but not the glory. Johnson became only the third pitcher to strike out 20 in nine innings, but missed out on tying the record because Arizona and Cincinnati went to extra innings Tuesday night.
The Diamondbacks went on beat Cincinnati 4-3 in 11 innings.
“This was a game to put in a time capsule and let people of the future watch it,” Johnson said.
Johnson became the first left-hander to strike out 20, but didn’t join Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood, who share the record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game.
The Elias Sports Bureau, baseball’s statistician, said Johnson’s performance will be considered as occurring in an extra-inning game even though he came out after nine.
The major-league record for an extra-inning game is 21, by Tom Cheney for Washington against Baltimore in a 16-inning game on Sept. 12, 1962.
“I was asked if I wanted to go out there and saw no point in going out there for the 10th inning,” Johnson said. “I surely could have went out there and done it, but what was the point in going out there and throwing 10 innings?
“I really didn’t see it.”
Johnson wasn’t disappointed, though.
He wanted to turn the game over to the bullpen.
“The outcome is what’s important,” he said.
Center-fielder Steve Finley has never seen a slider on a par with Johnson’s.
“It was ridiculous,” Finley said. “You know, he throws that batting-practice fastball 92 or 93, and there were a lot of times tonight I thought he was throwing his fastball that speed, and it was 98.
“It was so easy, with no effort, on any of his pitches, sliders, everything.”
Johnson threw 124 pitches, 92 for strikes, and walked none before Byung-Hyun Kim relieved to start the 10th.
Johnson struck out the side in the fourth, seventh and eighth innings, and fanned two batters in the first, second, third, fifth and ninth.
He struck out only one in the sixth.
He had 18 strikeouts in the first eight innings, then struck out pinch-hitter Deion Sanders on three pitches leading off the ninth.
Johnson gave up a groundout to Donnie Sadler, then struck out Juan Castro swinging.
The pitcher raised his right arm in celebration and tipped his cap as he walked off the field.
Bank One Ballpark put a “K” on the scoreboard for each strikeout, but the board ran out of room before Johnson reached 20.
Additional “Ks” were then tacked on the side of the board, with lights forming “20” in the middle.
Johnson struck out Barry Larkin and Alex Ochoa three times apiece; and Castro, Pokey Reese, Chris Reitsma, Ruben Rivera, Sadler, Kelly Stinnett twice each.
He fanned Aaron Boone and Sanders once.
Johnson, who struck out nine of his first 12 batters and eight of his last nine, allowed three hits.
He had a perfect game going until Boone singled with one out in the fifth.
Boone stole second and scored when Rivera singled up the middle. Cincinnati’s third hit off Johnson was a sixth-inning single by Sadler.
Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News, covering the Reds, wrote:
A sheet of paper was placed on the chair of each member of the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday afternoon, a scouting report on how to hit Arizona’s Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson.
For all the good it did, it would have better to have distributed a menu for the post-game meal or a map showing how to get around the bases at Bank One Ballpark.
It is easy enough for manager Bob Boone and coach Tim Foli to sit down in a room and formulate a plan of attack. It is quite another thing to drag a baseball bat to home plate and put that plan into effect when Johnson is throwing 96 miles an hour fastballs and bending 88 miles an hour sliders.
That paper should have had on it, “Our Father, who art . . .”
“The fastball is the pitch to hit,” the report said. “Be on time (with the swing) and be ready to attack his fastball. Look fastball and hit it. His fastball is very hittable.”
Sure, and electric eels are easy to catch barehanded.
The scouting report was useless for a lineup stacked by Boone with all right-handed hitters.
The first time through the batting order, Johnson struck out six of nine, and the other three didn’t get the ball out of the infield. Johnson struck out the side in the fourth – Donnie Sadler, Juan Castro and Barry Larkin. When Larkin became victim No. 9, he lost his bat on the strike three swing and it helicoptered beyond third base, the farthest anything projected by the Reds had traveled up to that point.
That sound in the Reds’ dugout was sheets of paper being torn to shreds.
The Big Unit struck out the side again in the seventh, getting Larkin and Ochoa each for the third time, giving him 15 after seven. Johnson struck out the side in the eighth, getting Rivera and Reese, then breaking the club record by fanning Kelly Stinnett for No. 18.
Pinch-hitter Deion Sanders struck out in the ninth, victim No. 19, the most Reds ever to strike out in one game. And he had seven strikeouts in a row, an Arizona record, then whiffed Castro for No. 20, tying Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens for the nine-inning record, but most ever by a left-hander. Philadelphia’s Steve “Lefty” Carlton struck out 19. Of Johnson’s 20 strikeouts, 18 were swinging.
After the ninth, as 29,817 stood and roared, Johnson pumped his arm skyward as he left the mound and waved his hat at the stands before disappearing into the dugout for the night, taking history with him.
The day after his game, Johnson said: “It’s much like a no-hitter. If it happens, it was meant to be. If it doesn’t happen, well, you just say you still gave it all you had. There are only two other players in the history of baseball who have done it. There’s a great deal of satisfaction in doing it.”