Yesterday, The Hat Gate game is reason enough to root for the Nationals described my experience sitting directly behind home plate watching Washington National’s ace Stephen Strasburg throw one hundred plus per mile fastballs for the Syracuse Chiefs at a 2010 game at Frontier Field.
The article elicited a response from former Democrat and Chronicle sportswriter Laurence Bump:
One of my favorite memories of Silver Stadium was the night Randy Johnson [Hall of Famer, 5 time Cy Young Award winner with 4, 875 strikeouts] pitched against the Red Wings. From the seats near home plate it looked like he could almost hand the ball to the catcher.
Not living in Rochester at the time nor remembering Johnson’s games, my research into the D & C archives found that Johnson pitched three times in Rochester. Most likely, Lary remembers Game 3 of the inaugural Triple-A-Classic matching the American Association winner Indianapolis Indians against the International League winner Rochester Red Wings.¹
At Frontier Field, the Red Wings won the first two games in the best-of-seven. Facing a potential 3 – 0 deficit, Johnson turned around the series with a dominant performance, his first complete game in the minor leagues. Buoyed, the Indians swept the next three games in Indianapolis. In the days before pitch counts, Johnson exceeded 130.² Six days later, Johnson made his major league debut with the Montreal Expos.
At that point in Johnson’s career, he was transforming from an erratic flame thrower to the overpowering and efficient major league pitcher he would become.
On Sept. 9, Johnson took the mound in Rochester against the Red Wings in the Triple-A Classic, a seven-game series between the American Association and International League champions, in which Indianapolis trailed two games to none. He had allowed just one run over the first seven innings, but his pitch count was climbing.
“He threw 130 pitches, approximately,” said Indians broadcaster Howard Kellman. “He aired it out … I didn’t have the slightest concern about them letting him go.”
Johnson finished, yielding two runs on eight hits, walking four and striking out eight. The Indians would reel off three straight wins after that to claim the series.
“I think that was a milestone for him mentally,” said Kerrigan of Johnson’s first complete game with the Indians. “Just getting over the hump and knowing that he could get to the end of the game.”
Not surprisingly given the growing recognition of Johnson’s not yet fully tamed fastball, Kevin Oklobjia’s D & C column focused on the two batters Johnson hit — Steve Finley and Keith Hughes (in the butt) — in the 8th and 9th when Indianapolis had a large lead. In both cases, Johnson said the plunking was unintentional. As for Finley, Johnson offered an explanation:
For all of Johnson’s claims to innocence, he was also known as a “Red Ass,” who might bend the unwritten rules of baseball like not hitting opposing players when holding a big lead in the last innings. Did Johnson mean to hit Steve Finley? Only “Big Unit” Johnson — as he became to be called — knows.
¹ Lary wrote back: “That indeed was the game I recalled. I wasn’t aware that he had pitched at Silver Stadium during that regular season. There weren’t a whole lot of interleague games between teams in the International League and American Association.”
² After reading the original article, Oklobjia sent me the scorecard he kept of the game. Kevin counted that Johnson threw 151 pitches! including 25 in the ninth inning.
I own three Randy Johnson rookie cards recording Johnson’s stats in Montreal after the Triple-A-Classic. I haven’t yet certified the condition of the cards but the top selling offer for each is $200. Any takers?
1988 has special meaning to me. That season someone got the autographs of Frank Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr. that I would later buy as seen in Frank Robinson and a glove signed at the 1988 Orioles-Red Wings exhibition game.SEE ALSO