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Original Issue

Big Unit Reaches Perfection Randy Johnson's Dominance

Before tossing a perfect game against the Braves on May 18,
Diamondbacks lefthander Randy Johnson was a frustrated pitcher
with a short fuse. He felt he had been removed too early in a May
7 loss to the Phillies, and then he was beaten 1-0 by the Mets
five days later. A day after the latter game Johnson bristled at
reporters when asked if he was bothered that only 27,750 fans had
showed up for the game at Bank One Ballpark. "It's a lot of money
to come out to a ballgame, and it's probably spent better going
to the movies than coming to watch the Diamondbacks," he snapped.
"You done?"

Johnson's frustration stemmed from poor run support (in three of
his four losses Arizona scored a combined two runs while he was
in the game) and the Diamondbacks' 17-26 record at week's end.
But the five-time Cy Young Award winner, who followed his
perfecto with another gem on Sunday--two runs in seven innings
for a 4-3 victory over the Marlins--has been in top form all
season. Johnson was 5-4 with a 2.44 ERA and led the majors in
strikeouts per nine innings (11.06). Opposing hitters were
batting .156 against him, the lowest average in the majors.

It's a remarkable turnaround for Johnson, 40, who last season
went 6-8 with a 4.26 ERA and spent 14 weeks on the disabled list
with an injured right knee that required mid-season surgery.

Against the Braves, Johnson, the oldest player ever to toss a
perfect game, threw 117 pitches and struck out 13. "It was like a
surreal experience. When you wake up you think, No, he couldn't
have just thrown a perfect game against us," says Braves
leftfielder Chipper Jones, who struck out three times. "You think
it had to be a dream."

Though Johnson is in the first year of a two-year, $33 million
contract extension he signed in March 2003, there is speculation
that if Arizona remains out of contention, the Big Unit might be
traded this summer. Diamondbacks managing general partner Jerry
Colangelo said last week that he had no intention of moving his
ace, but he could change his mind given that Johnson makes nearly
twice as much money as any of his teammates and Colangelo would
like to cut $15 million from the team's $70 million payroll by
next season.

The intrigue of Johnson's season of discontent--and
dominance--may be just beginning.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BAZEMORE/AP (JOHNSON) Johnson discovered the answer to poor run support by throwing aperfect game.