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Johnson's One Ace Who's in the Hole

Baseball: Arizona starter gives up 10 hits and six runs in six innings as St. Louis runs away with opener, 12-2.

October 02, 2002|JOE GERGEN | NEWSDAY

PHOENIX — To the rest of the National League, Randy Johnson may be the reincarnation of Cy Young. Against the St. Louis Cardinals, he continues to look like Cy Old.

For the second time in two postseason encounters, the most intimidating pitcher in baseball was routed by St. Louis and charged with a resounding defeat.

Fresh from a three-game sweep of the defending champion Arizona Diamondbacks at Busch Stadium in the last week of the regular season, the Cardinals turned Johnson into a six-inning pitcher with a barrage of extra-base hits and rolled to a 12-2 triumph in the first game of the National League division series Tuesday at Bank One Ballpark.

"I feel very, very bad that I put us in such a deep hole from the get-go," Johnson said. "My slider was flat. My fastball fell on the middle of the plate. Going up against probably the best lineup in the National League, the two don't mix."

St. Louis needs two more victories to reverse the outcome of the teams' meeting in the 2001 NLDS, which Arizona used as a springboard to its first World Series championship.

Johnson thoroughly dominated the league in what was the best regular season in a likely Hall of Fame career. He led pitchers in wins (24), earned-run average (2.32) and strikeouts (334). Johnson also closed out the campaign with a 5-0 record and minuscule 0.66 ERA during September, a spurt that could earn him a fourth consecutive Cy Young Award in four seasons with the Diamondbacks.

But all of those glittering credentials were wasted on the Cardinals, one of two NL teams to post a winning mark against the 6-foot-10 left-hander.

It's true that he suffered some bad luck against St. Louis in the past and did win his only decision of 2002 versus the Cardinals, a 5-3 victory in April at Bank One. But that didn't address the problem he had in Game 2 of last year's series when Albert Pujols connected for a two-run homer in the first inning en route to a 4-1 St. Louis victory.

The Cardinals started fast again Tuesday. This time it was Jim Edmonds who provided the two-run homer, driving in Fernando Vina who had reached base on Tony Womack's throwing error.

But Arizona battled back to tie the score with single runs in the first and third innings. An error by St. Louis shortstop Edgar Renteria also provided the opportunity for the Diamondbacks and Womack scored the first run for the home team on Junior Spivey's bloop single and a sacrifice fly by Steve Finley.

A pair of walks by Cardinal starter Matt Morris preceded Quinton McCracken's RBI single in the third, evening the game at 2-2.

No sooner had Johnson been given a second life, however, he was victimized by Pujols' leadoff triple to deep center and a long home run by Scott Rolen in the fourth.

The Cardinals added one more run in that inning on Renteria's single and stolen base, a groundout and Mike Matheny's single.

Two innings later, Matheny led off with a double, advanced to third on Vina's single and scored a sixth run on a sacrifice fly by Eli Marrero.

Johnson departed at the end of the sixth, charged with 10 hits and five earned runs, after which the Arizona's bullpen then imploded during a six-run seventh inning.

Remarkably, the 12 runs matched the Cardinals' total for all five games in the 2001 division series, which they lost on Womack's single in the ninth inning of Game 5.

In earning his first postseason victory, Morris yielded seven hits in seven innings. Jeff Fassero and Mike Crudale finish up for the Cardinals, who won seven of their last eight games and 21 of their last 25 during the regular season.

The only other NL team with a winning record against Johnson is the Atlanta Braves (4-3) but he took care of them in the 2001 league championship series, defeating them twice while surrendering only two runs.

*

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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