As San Francisco Giants lefthander Randy Johnson goes for win No. 300 tonight, one report says he has a not-so-secret weapon to thank: the beanball.
It doesn't hurt that the 45-year-old lefty had a 100-mph fastball and pinpoint accuracy throughout most of his career. But keeping batters off balance with the fear factor may have been his biggest key, according to The Wall Street Journal. The paper reports that Johnson has hit the most batters, 188, since Walter Johnson and Eddie Plank took the mound in the World War one era.
The lanky southpaw's long list of hit batsmen include Barry Bonds, Larry Walker, Jim Leyritz (tagged four times), and even a pigeon who flew a little to close to his pitch.
Former Major League player John Kruk is no stranger to pitchers who make the inside of the strike zone home.
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"There's other guys who pitch inside, Jamie Moyer and Greg Maddox pitch inside, but they're not as much a concern," he said.
When Kruk stepped into the batters box in the 1993 All-Star Game representing the Philadelphia Phillies, he was visibly scared. Kruk's at-bat showed how paralyzing the fear of a misplaced fastball could be.
Kruk breathed a deep sigh of relief when the first pitch sailed over his head and he remained unscathed. He stood far from the plate and timidly swung at pitches. Between strikes, Kruk breathed deeply and gasped for air as he sweated uncontrollably.
Other hitters in the opposing dugout, like Frank Thomas, then of the Chicago White Sox, couldn't help but laugh.
When Kruk struck out on four pitches, he threw his helmet down and looked relieved to walk out of the batters box in one piece.
Still, while Johnson is notorious for hitting batters, no one can deny his skill or his Cooperstown inevitability. The New York Times reports that Johnson has 4,843 strike-outs, five Cy Young Awards, a World Series Title with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001, and perfect game, 27 hitters up and 27 hitters down.
If Johnson can beat the struggling Nationals, he'll only be the 24Th pitcher in Major League history to get 300 wins. The only active pitchers with 200 wins, a list that includes John Smolts, Andy Pettitte, and Pedro Martinez, are closer to the twilight of their careers.
For them, 300 could be out of reach, meaning baseball fans may not see this again for some time.
Former Major League pitcher and current YES Analyst Al Leiter played briefly with Johnson. He knew opposing batters were shaking on the inside even if they had a poker faces on the outside.
"I think he just put the fear of God in Guys," he said.