That blast propelled the Phillies to a 9-3 win over the D-backs in front of 25,286 at Chase Field on Wednesday afternoon. The loss prevented an Arizona sweep of the series and ended its win streak at three.
Early in the game, the story was the Big Unit, as he was hitting 94 mph and showing the best slider he has had all season. The six straight batters whiffed to open the game was two shy of the Major League record and one short of the club record for consecutive strikeouts at any time.
"He was using the inside part of the plate on right-handers. He had good velocity and a great slider," said manager Bob Melvin.
Johnson threw shutout ball over the first six frames and carried a 3-0 lead into the seventh with help from solo homers by Orlando Hudson and Eric Byrnes.
"The first six innings, I felt I was in control of the game," said Johnson.
Said Phillies right fielder Shane Victorino: "He came out like a bull. I felt like I might as well have been going up there without a bat."
However, things started to unravel in the seventh. Aaron Rowand singled to left-center, and Chase Utley was hit by a pitch as Johnson's pitch count started to close in on 100.
"In hindsight, do I go get him right there after the Utley at-bat?" said Melvin.
Pat Burrell then worked a walk to load the bases, and Johnson exited after 101 pitches.
"That Burrell at-bat really took it out of him," said Melvin. "I had to go get him, and he didn't fight me on it. He was done. The only question was, 'Do I do it one batter before?'"
"I'm still trying to get my legs under me and get my stamina back," said Johnson, who finished with nine strikeouts. "I hit a wall a little bit and it was frustrating that I put us in a bad position."
Melvin called on righty Brandon Medders, and Phillies manager Charlie Manuel made the obvious move to pinch-hit with the lefty Howard, last year's National League MVP. Howard, who hit 58 homers last season, has been getting a rest from the starting lineup this week to deal with nagging quad and knee issues.
"You know it's coming. That's the best situation to do it in," said Melvin.
Howard promptly deposited Medders' first offering deep into the right-field stands, his sixth of the season.
Just like that a 3-0 lead turned into a 4-3 deficit.
"You have to throw away to try and get him out, and he jumped on a first-pitch fastball that was in too far and he got it out," said Medders. "It was a good piece of hitting."
Howard's last three hits have been homers. It was his fourth career pinch-hit homer and fourth career grand slam.
Medders (1-1) has given up six homers in 15 2/3 innings this season.
"He's given up a few in these kind of situations," said Melvin. "He beats himself up pretty good, but he knows he has to let it go because he could be in there again the next day."
The Phillies added two more runs in the eighth -- with help from a throwing error -- and three more in the ninth, but this one seemed over the moment the ball left Howard's bat.
Meanwhile, the other aging southpaw, Moyer (4-2), methodically plodded along with his soft and softer stuff, allowing three runs in seven innings of work but picking up the win on Howard's heroics.
"Tip your hat to him," said Johnson. "Strikeouts can take a lot out of you. I'm trying to get through six innings on 100 pitches and he's going through seven on ."
Not only was it the oldest starting southpaw matchup in big-league history, but according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Johnson and Moyer met for the first time since Sept. 21,1989 -- a span of 17 years, 230 days. It was the longest period between starts for opposing pitchers in Major League history. Johnson pitched eight innings and struck out 10 to win that matchup, and after the first two innings of this one it looked like he would do it again.
"I may have been the old Randy for six innings, but then I just got old," said Johnson.