This 2-0 mastery of the Detroit Tigers, featuring Cecil Fielder, was the Big Unit’s real arrival on the baseball scene, the first obvious evidence that he was more than just an erratic hard thrower. It was also one of the early signs that the Seattle Mariners of the 1990s would be much more exciting than the 1980s team, and a decade later, when the Kingdome imploded, it still stood as one of the great highlights for baseball in the Kingdome. The Seattle Times reported:
Johnson, whose 95 mph fastball and sharp breaking ball give him no-hit ability in every start, was just strong enough, just sharp enough and just wild enough to bring it together last night.
He struck out eight, walked six and had a Tiger reach on an error by shortstop Mike Brumley in the fourth. He threw 50 pitches over 94 mph, several reaching 97, including the final strike to Detroit’s Mike Heath.
“I’ve never seen him before,” said Detroit slugger Cecil Fielder, who fanned twice and walked twice. “But I heard he has trouble controlling his breaking ball sometimes. Well, not tonight.
“The man pitched a great game and deserved what he got. He was throwing that slider over for strikes when he was behind in the count. Then he comes in with that big fastball. How are you going to hit that?
“The answer is – you’re not, and we didn’t,” Fielder said.
Only a few of the batted balls that Johnson allowed had a chance of falling safely. In the first inning, center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. ran down a long shot by Gary Ward. In the fourth, third baseman Edgar Martinez cut off a ball in the hole by Chet Lemon. In the eighth, second baseman Harold Reynolds made a charge-and-shovel play on a roller by Alan Trammell.
There was also a close play in the seventh on Tracy Jones. Martinez’ throw pulled Alvin Davis off first, but Davis slapped a tag on the back of Jones head as he went past.
“I was out,” Jones said of the play, which drew a brief beef from Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson.
Johnson was in trouble only once, and it was of his own making. In the sixth he walked three to load the bases, but came back from a 2-1 count to strike out Lemon, who owns a .314 lifetime mark against Seattle.
After his no-hitter, Johnson said: “I think, being a power pitcher, sometimes I can use my wildness to my advantage. Once, when I was in the minor leagues, Casey Candaele, one of my teammates, told me I should get a pair of big, old, thick, bottle glasses and he would walk me to the mound and I would face toward second base and he would have to turn me around.
“Usually I come in here on game days really high-strung, but I was really relaxed. And then, in about the seventh inning, to get my mind off the no-hitter , I started tapping the drum beats I’d been practicing. I just got a beat and kind of got into my own world.
“It kind of took my mind off the game, and it made it easier for me to go out there every inning. I think if I had been thinking about the game between innings, something bad might have happened. Getting my mind off the game really helped.
“I’ve been listening to some tapes on how to relax, and the combination of those tapes and the drumming worked. I’m going to talk to Jim (Lefebvre) about taking those drums on the road.”
Johnson said of the game’s ending: “The feeling I had is something that’s hard to describe. Toward the end of the game, I felt like I could throw my pitches exactly where I wanted to and, for me, that’s saying a lot.
“After it was over, I didn’t know how to react. It’s the greatest thrill in the world. It’s a great joy to do it. It’s an accomplishment I’ll probably never do again.
“There’s a sigh of relief that it is done and completed now. I can really feel for guys like Brian Holman who come within one out of one.”
As a postscript, here’s an unofficial list of all nine no-hitters in the 1990 mlb season, with pitcher or pitchers, opponent, score and date (Perez’s and Hawkins’ have been dropped from the official ranks):
— Mark Langston (7 innings) and Mike Witt (2), California vs. Seattle, 1-0, April 11.
— Randy Johnson , Seattle vs. Detroit, 2-0, June 2.
— Nolan Ryan, Texas at Oakland, 5-0, June 11.
— Dave Stewart, Oakland at Toronto, 5-0, June 29.
— Fernando Valenzuela, Los Angeles vs. St. Louis, 6-0, June 29.
— Andy Hawkins, New York at Chicago, 0-4, July 1.
— Melido Perez, Chicago at New York, 8-0, July 12.
— Terry Mulholland, Philadelphia vs. San Francisco, 6-0, Aug. 15.
— Dave Stieb, Toronto at Cleveland, 3-0, Sept. 2