reporting from washington
The 6-foot-10 left-hander with perhaps the most menacing sneer and imposing mound presence in baseball history had to take a few exaggerated breaths to keep from breaking down Thursday night.
Sitting before reporters at Nationals Park after becoming the 24th and newest member of Major League Baseball’s 300-win club, San Francisco Giants left-hander Randy Johnson’s face reddened as he struggled to explain what he was feeling after the Giants’ 5-1 win over the Washington Nationals.
“This is kind of a long-term thing that has been going on for 21 years, and you finally get to this day,” said Johnson, who at age 45 is the second-oldest pitcher to reach the 300-win milestone. “And you know that if your team plays well, you pitch well, that something can happen that’s only happened  other times.”
Johnson became the sixth left-hander to reach 300. He accomplished it despite winning only 64 games before he turned 30 and despite undergoing three back surgeries in his career, the most recent in 2007.
“The past few years, 300 wasn’t on my mind,” Johnson said.
“It was just a matter of I wanted to get through surgery, be healthy and prove that I could still pitch That was much more important to me, because 300 really wasn’t on the horizon when I was going through all these surgeries.”
With the game and his peace of mind on the line in the ninth inning Thursday, Johnson sat stoically in the visitor’s dugout watching Giants’ closer Brian Wilson strike out Nationals catcher Wil Nieves.
Johnson then walked deliberately onto the field, hugged each teammate and waved his cap in a circle to the soggy crowd of only a few thousand that had braved a rainout on Wednesday and a 36-minute delay of the doubleheader to witness Johnson achieve baseball immortality.
“We watched history today,” Nationals Manager Manny Acta said.
“He’s probably going to be the last guy to ever do this. It was impressive to see. His longevity and everything he’s done for the game paid off today.”
Afterward, Johnson was asked if he’d be the last to ever reach the milestone.
“There’s a lot of talented pitchers out there, and the next 300-game winner might be signing this week with an organization,” Johnson said.
The active pitcher with the most wins behind Johnson is Philadelphia Phillies’ 46-year-old lefty Jamie Moyer, who has 250.
“Don’t overlook Jamie Moyer,” Johnson said.
Given his injury history, perhaps it was fitting that Johnson was forced to leave Thursday after six dominating innings because of a bruised left shoulder.
On the first play of the sixth, Johnson fielded a grounder and successfully shoveled the ball to first while falling to the ground.
“My senior moment, where I thought I was 25 and made that play,” he said jokingly.
He stayed in the game for the rest of the inning, yielding one unearned run, before acknowledging to the Giants’ training staff that his left shoulder was sore from the fall.
So Giants Manager Bruce Bochy had to remove Johnson from a 2-1 game on the doorstep of No. 300 after he had thrown only 78 pitches.
Initially, it looked as if Johnson might be flirting with dual historic story lines.
His perfect game ended with a one-out walk in the fourth, and he didn’t allow a hit until the leadoff batter of the fifth.
“With everything he has done, sure,” said Bochy about a potential no-hitter. “It does cross your mind, and you could see his focus tonight.”
He had to settle for a six-inning two-hitter. And he had to survive a near-collapse by the Giants’ bullpen in the eighth when the Nationals loaded the bases with two out. Wilson threw a full-count fastball just below the knees of slugger Adam Dunn that home-plate umpire Tim Timmons called strike three.
After the game, Johnson handed the game ball to his wife, Lisa, when he entered the interview room.
It was then when the oft-scowling Johnson nearly lost his composure before settling down -- much like his rocky but eventually stellar career.
“There have been a lot of peaks and valleys,” Johnson said. “And to think I have come along this far.”
BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX
The 300 club: Will anyone else be joining?
Pitchers who have won 300 games or more (x-active):
1. Cy Young
2. Walter Johnson
3. Grover C. Alexander
3. Christy Mathewson
5. Pud Galvin
6. Warren Spahn
7. Kid Nichols
8. Greg Maddux
9. Roger Clemens
10. Tim Keefe
11. Steve Carlton
12. John Clarkson
13. Eddie Plank
14. Nolan Ryan
14. Don Sutton
16. Phil Niekro
17. Gaylord Perry
18. Tom Seaver
19. Hoss Radbourn
20. Mickey Welch
21. Tom Glavine
22. x-Randy Johnson
22. Lefty Grove
22. Early Wynn
Active pitchers closest to 300 wins. (Pitcher’s age)
1. Jamie Moyer (46)
2. Andy Pettitte (37)
3. John Smoltz (42)
4. Tim Wakefield (42)
5. Bartolo Colon (36)