Big Unit superb in tallying 297th win

Big Unit superb in tallying 297th win

SAN FRANCISCO -- Reaching 300 career victories isn't Randy Johnson's most immediate goal.

What Johnson seeks is to avoid the drastic fluctuations in his performance that have typified his season thus far. Friday night, he soared instead of sank, working seven shutout innings in the Giants' 3-2 decision over the Rockies. San Francisco climbed into second place in the National League West with its eighth victory in 10 games.

Johnson recorded his 297th career triumph, bringing him a step closer toward becoming the 24th pitcher to win 300 games. But Johnson has maintained since joining the Giants last offseason that this milestone doesn't consume him. Fashioning gems such as this one, which featured only four Rockies singles, no walks and nine strikeouts, is something he savors more.

"You pick up the newspaper tomorrow and you wouldn't know whether I was 45 or 25. That's the beauty of this game," Johnson said. "It's really what I strive for and it's what I've been about. I'm not here just to win five games [the number of victories he needed for 300 when the season began] and be a question mark every fifth day."

Johnson's certainly an honest self-critic. He preceded this effort by lasting only 3 1/3 innings and walking seven at Arizona. One start before that, he no-hit the Diamondbacks for six innings and finished with a seven-inning one-hitter. But that followed a 3 2/3-inning, seven-run lapse at Los Angeles.

"What I have noticed ... is that at age 45, I'm not able to have those [dominant] games back to back to back to back," Johnson said. "... The consistency, I'm hoping, is there. But after five starts, I've really been pleased with only a couple of my games."

Johnson believes that pitching every five days more often than he did in April, when the Giants had four scheduled off-days, should steady him. Meanwhile, he'll likely continue to downplay his march to 300 -- though his teammates will find it difficult to ignore.

"Of course I do," Giants closer Brian Wilson said when asked if he feels a growing sense of history. Watching Johnson pitch a game like Friday's, Wilson said, "You get a little sense of urgency and I want to get in there and shut this game down for him right now. ... Hopefully I can keep closing them out for him to 300."

Wilson did his job against Colorado, but before that the rainy, misty evening belonged to Johnson (2-2). The 6-foot-10 left-hander improved to 19-7 against the Rockies, whom he has defeated more than any other team.

Johnson struck out the first five batters he faced and allowed only two Rockies to reach scoring position. Troy Tulowitzki singled and stole second base with one out in the fifth inning, but Johnson responded by striking out Chris Iannetta and Clint Barmes. One inning later, Dexter Fowler and Matt Murton singled with one out to put runners on the corners before Todd Helton grounded into a double play.

The Giants barely survived the eighth inning, which they entered with a 3-0 lead and escaped only after summoning Wilson, who recorded his second consecutive four-out save.

Iannetta, a .372 lifetime hitter against San Francisco, homered off Bob Howry to christen the inning. In came Jeremy Affeldt, who retired two Rockies but also surrendered a run and three hits, the last being Helton's run-scoring smash that shortstop Edgar Renteria smothered on a hop. Had the ball proceeded into left field, the tying run might have scored.

Wilson arrived and yielded Garrett Atkins' infield single on another ball that Renteria corralled in the hole, again preventing a run but loading the bases. Wilson responded by striking out Ryan Spilborghs on a 3-2 pitch.

"Gosh, that was a fun situation," Wilson deadpanned. "I think Renteria got the save that game, actually."

Facing Ubaldo Jimenez (1-4), who limited them to a .194 batting average in five previous starts, the Giants collected only five hits and manufactured barely enough offense to suffice for Johnson. "Manufactured" is the key term.

Fred Lewis dribbled a one-out infield single in the second inning before scoring on Travis Ishikawa's double, which missed clearing the right-center-field wall by a foot. The Giants scored without benefit of a hit in the third as Randy Winn walked, advanced on Renteria's walk, stole third base and came home on Bengie Molina's sacrifice fly. Winn's seventh-inning sacrifice fly scored Ishikawa, who singled before Emmanuel Burriss was hit by a pitch and pinch-hitter Eugenio Velez laid down a sacrifice bunt.

Said manager Bruce Bochy of the Giants' little-ball feats, "Everybody likes to play that way, but that has to be part of our game."

So does pitching. Johnson reminded himself of this during Thursday's off-day, which he spent by speaking to the varsity and junior varsity baseball teams at Livermore High School, his alma mater.

"That was a lot of fun," Johnson said. "But as soon as I got home last night, I realized that I really kind of need to get going here."

Friday could have been the beginning.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.