In so many ways,
But the main way in which Johnson distinguished himself has always been this: few pitchers, especially in this offensively dominant era, have been as dominant for as long as he has. The result is that the man who has always stood alone is now a member of one of the most exclusive fraternities in all of baseball: the 300-win club.
"He's a good guy, but it's tough for him to get out and be comfortable," said one Giants person. "His stature and size creates that."
If Johnson the man has always been difficult to know and sometimes difficult to like, Johnson the pitcher has been all too easy to appreciate because his greatness on the mound did not need to be explained, only witnessed. After all, there's nothing complicated about slinging 100-mph fastballs by hitters with his distinctive sidearm delivery or causing them to give themselves hernias swinging at his nasty slider as it dove out of the strike zone.
Johnson is not that pitcher anymore. The once fearsome fastball is dangerous now only because of the reputation and experience of the man throwing it, not because of the velocity that accompanies it. On Thursday, Johnson rarely broke 91 and when he reared back to throw a third strike past Washington's
But then, nothing about Johnson is very fast anymore. He was still walking from the bullpen to the Giants dugout when
"[I'm] proud the most of persevering," he said Thursday, adding that when he had the surgeries "Three hundred wasn't on my mind. I just wanted to get through the surgery, get healthy and prove I could still pitch."
Johnson also discovered a newfound appreciation for his accomplishments, and for the players he had watched do the same thing. And perhaps he has mellowed this year, maybe becoming a little less distant as his career draws to a close and his place in history is more secure. He realized what he had to offer to the next generation and he took the vast knowledge of his experiences and has tried to impart it to the younger pitchers around him, especially reigning NL Cy Young winner
"He's been very open to all the guys [on staff]," said pitching coach
"He's not going to be the guy that talks a lot," said Lincecum, who grew up in the state of Washington watching Johnson star for the Mariners and wanting to throw 100 mph like he did. "[But] if he talks you listen."
Johnson has relied on that intensity to keep going at an age when by every right, he should already be in the Hall of Fame, instead of adding lines to his eventual plaque. When the Giants were courting Johnson last offseason to come to San Francisco, he asked his potential employers: What do you expect from me? Nothing, said Righetti and manager
Johnson threw just 78 pitches Thursday, leaving after bruising his shoulder while making a fine defensive play in the top of the sixth. He threw just 79 in win No. 299 last week in San Francisco. After that game, he mentioned to
He also mentioned his father, who died on Christmas Day 1992 of a heart attack. "I think of him every time I go out to the mound," said Johnson. "The last 17 years of my career, he hasn't seen that. He was always very critical and that's why I don't get caught up in my achievements."
Even the normally stoic Johnson couldn't help but get caught up in this one. Bochy sat next to him during the ninth inning and described Johnson's reaction at the final out as "a cross between celebration and a sense of relief." After
"It kind of hit me when I walked on the field," said Johnson of the magnitude of his accomplishment. "It's a long-range achievement, not a one-game achievement or a one-year achievement. I will think about this for a long time."
So will all who saw it. Though Johnson was quick to dismiss talk that he will be the last 300-game winner ever, it will likely be a decade or more before baseball sees a moment like this. It will be even longer before a pitcher like Johnson comes around again.
Perhaps that's why when Lincecum was asked what it meant to see something so rare and something that may never be seen again, the man with the boyish face who trails Johnson by 21 years, 271 wins and 13 inches, took a moment before answering "Three hundred," he said in amazement. Then a sly smile crept across his face. "That," he said "is a lot of f---in' wins."