The night in 1988 when a Hall of Fame flame thrower threw 151 pitches in the Triple-A-Classic at Silver Stadium

Randy Johnson tossed his first pro complete game to lead Tribe over Rochester in Game 3 of 1988 Triple-A Championship (Indianapolis Indians News)

Randy Johnson tossed his first pro complete game to lead Tribe over Rochester in Game 3 of 1988 Triple-A Championship (Indianapolis Indians News)

Larry Bump NEW

Lary Bump, former Democrat and Chronicle sportswriter witnessed Randy Johnson pitching at Silver Stadium.

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

Randy Johnson (30) in a portrait with the 1988 Indianapolis Indians (Photo: Indianapolis Indians)

Randy Johnson (30) in a portrait with the 1988 Indianapolis Indians (Photo: Indianapolis Indians)

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.

Democrat and Chronicle, Sat, Sep 10, 1988 · Page 35

Democrat and Chronicle, Sat, Sep 10, 1988 · Page 35

Sat, Sep 10, 1988 · Page 38

Sat, Sep 10, 1988 · Page 38

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.

IndyStar’s Hard work, repetition and a mannequin took Randy Johnson from Indy to the Hall of Fame looks at the game from the perspective of Indianapolis broadcaster Howard Kellman who saw Johnson’s complete game as a key moment in that transformation:

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.”

Sat, Sep 10, 1988 · Page 35

Sat, Sep 10, 1988 · Page 35

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:

Sat, Sep 10, 1988 · Page 35

Sat, Sep 10, 1988 · Page 35

Steve Finley displayed bobble head doll. Owned by Dean Tucker but held by me for safe keeping.

Steve Finley was hit by a Randy Johnson fastball in the third game of the 1988 Triple-A-Classic. Finley’s bobble head was a gift from Dean Tucker to David Kramer and was displayed  from May 1 – June 14th, 2013 at the Rundel Library in the Pride & Passion: The African-American Baseball Experience traveling exhibition that also included Rochester Baseball Memorabilia at Central Library.From On a Cal Ripken signed 1989 glove, prized possessions, and the Rundel Library

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.

Scorebook kept by

Scorebook kept by Kevin Oklobjia.

POSTSCRIPT  1

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?

Johnson

(l-r) 1989 Topps #647 Randy Johnson ; 1989 Fleer #381Randy Johnson Marlboro Error; 1989 Score # 77T , Randy Johnson

POSTSCRIPT  2  

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.

Exhibit note: “This glove was signed at the 1989 Redwings [sic] vs. Orioles exhibition game. It is signed by Cal Ripken Jr., Frank Robinson, and Coach Curt Motton. Donated for exhibit by David Kramer.” [The correct date is 1988]

Exhibit note: “This glove was signed at the 1989 Redwings [sic] vs. Orioles exhibition game. It is signed by Cal Ripken Jr., Frank Robinson, and Coach Curt Motton. Donated for exhibit by David Kramer.” [The correct date is 1988]

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