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The Big Unit’s Big Mistake

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Randy Johnson

I’ve always hated the intentional walk in baseball. When a pitcher intentionally walks a batter, it’s usually out of cowardice: he doesn’t want to give some Big Bat a chance to hit off him. Barry Bonds was intentionally walked more than any other player in the game; Giants fans hung a rubberrubberchicken1 chicken over the wall for each walk, amassing quite a collection. I felt sorry for fans throughout the country who’d shell out big bucks just to see a legend at bat: one guy in Kansas literally begged the pitcher, holding up his index finger and mouthing the plea, “Just one time.”

Sometimes the walk is strategic, but even then, it seems like a copout, and besides, the next batter who does get pitched to might just fake out the pitcher. That’s what happened last night to Randy Johnson a/k/a The Big Unit in his debut as a San Francisco Giant.

Fans gave Johnson two standing ovations before he even got to the mound. He lived up to his rep, striking out seven batters in five innings, all but one swinging. The crowd was going nuts.

The game was tied in the fifth inning, when, with two outs under The Unit’s belt, Jason Kendall (former Oakland A) came up to bat. He’d be followed by opposing pitcher Yovani Gallardo, who in 49 lifetime at-bats has hit just two home runs. Johnson intentionally walked Kendall, hastening his envisioned strike-out of Gallardo. Guess what happened? Fake-out!

Gallardo is the first pitcher to hit a home run off Johnson in his 22-year career. “Not too many people get the opportunity to do that,” he said later on. “Rounding the bases, I got very excited.”

I don’t know if walking Kendall was Johnson’s idea, or orders of Manager Bruce Bochy; I suspect the latter–Randy’s too secure to intentionally walk anyone. I can only imagine how he felt about it afterwards. What he said was,”I feel bad because I took the wind out of the sails for the fans.” Isn’t that just precious? He’s a sweet guy, even if he does look like he just stepped off the set of Deliverance.

The Giants have a chance to end eight years of lousy playing (even with Monster Bonds in the lineup) this season. It’s not all up to the Big Unit, but I hope he doesn’t plan any more intentional walks.

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