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Big Unit remains a big headache
Dusty Baker wears No. 12 on his back and considers it his lucky number.
So when Baker heard Arizona ace Randy Johnson was a perfect 11-0 against the Cubs, he figured Monday could be the Cubs' lucky night.
But it takes a lot more than luck to beat the 40-year-old Johnson, the Ponce de Leon of power pitchers.
The Big Unit dominated the Cubs in Arizona's 9-0 victory at Bank One Ballpark, snapping their six-game winning streak and bolstering his reputation as a Cubs killer.
Johnson shut out the Cubs on two hits over seven innings, striking out 10 in a masterful performance.
"He had us looking like he was in total command, which he was," Baker said. "That was similar to the game Matt Clement threw [Sunday] against the Mets."
What looked on paper like an intriguing pitchers' duel fizzled early. Carlos Zambrano (2-1) was knocked out in the fifth inning, allowing seven runs on 10 hits in his first poor outing of the season. He threw 86 pitches in 41/3 innings, watching his earned-run average jump from 1.29 to 3.55.
"I've got 29 more starts," Zambrano said. "It was just a bad day."
Johnson's 12-0 career record against the Cubs includes victories in each of his last eight starts against them. He posted the 193rd double-digit strikeout game of his career, and with 3,913 career strikeouts is 223 shy of Steve Carlton's record for strikeouts by a left-hander.
Few of the current Cubs hitters were even with the team during any part of Johnson's streak. He hadn't pitched against them since 2002, and the only ones around then were Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, Alex Gonzalez and Corey Patterson.
"Everybody here has faced him before," third baseman Aramis Ramirez said. "We go out there and think about him like he's any other pitcher."
Of course, Johnson is not just any other pitcher. He's fourth on the all-time strikeout list and definitely isn't one of those geezers who drives 55 m.p.h. in the fast lane. He has now struck out 138 Cubs hitters in 952/3 innings, an average of 13 per nine innings.
Johnson (2-2) showed early Monday that it would be more of the same, striking out seven in the first three innings.
The Cubs came in with a .289 average, the second highest in the National League to Pittsburgh's .295. But they managed only one hit off Johnson through the first six inningsa one-out single in the third by Zambrano. Alou had the other single against Johnson in the seventh.
Zambrano got through the first two innings without any problems before getting whacked around. Chad Tracy led off the third with a double before scoring on Robby Hammock's bloop double that hugged the right-field line. With two outs, Zambrano tried to throw a 96-m.p.h. fastball past Alex Cintron on a 3-2 pitch, but he watched Cintron smoke it to the wall in left-center for a run-scoring triple.
Baker ordered an intentional walk to Hammock with a runner on second and two outs in the fourth, but Johnson lined an 0-2 fastball over the first-base bag for an RBI single, giving the D'backs a 3-0 lead. Matt Kata followed with another RBI single, and Arizona was in complete control.
"When Randy's dealing, there's not much difference between 4-0 and 5 or 6 to nothing," Baker said. "We were just hoping we could get [Zambrano's] pitch count up and get him out of there."
When Tracy's bases-loaded blooper over third base brought home two more runs in the fifth, Baker had finally seen enough. Richie Sexson added a 503-foot, two-run homer off Francis Beltran in the sixth, hitting the Jumbotron scoreboard in center field. It was the longest home run in the seven-year history of Bank One Ballpark, beating a Scott Rolen blast by 30 feet.
It was that kind of night for the Cubs.