"Second all-time, that's pretty good," said D-Backs manager Bob Melvin after Chris Young's walk-off homer gave his club its 10th win in the last 11 games. "He's at the point in his career, and probably has been for the last three years, where it seems like every strikeout, every win is another milestone. He's pretty excited about it and should be. He's not done yet."
The announcement of the feat was made to the hometown throng of 25,848 at Chase Field. And after extending his record for the most strikeouts ever by a left-hander, Johnson was given a prolonged standing ovation.
Johnson, 43 and in his second Arizona tour, tipped his cap as he strode from the mound to the Diamondbacks' third-base side dugout. When the cheering didn't subside, the Unit took a curtain call and tipped his cap to the appreciative crowd again.
Johnson had ended the fourth by striking out San Francisco starter Matt Cain to tie the right-handed Clemens.
He was lifted for pinch-hitter Miguel Montero in the sixth inning, with two runs on seven hits, a walk and those eight whiffs to show for his 95 pitches. The score was knotted, 2-2, at the time, but when Montero homered, Johnson remained the pitcher of record. The Diamondbacks couldn't hold the lead and thus Johnson lost a shot at his 284th victory. He's 3-2 with 61 strikeouts and a 3.78 earned run average.
"First and foremost, I'm just glad we won," Johnson said. "But when it comes to that sort of stuff [milestones], I think if you put yourself in a position to do those things, good things will happen. Obviously, the first time I was here, we had that board out there and some of the names I was passing were pretty cool. A lot of people I met. Warren Spahn, [Sandy] Koufax and [Steve} Carlton, people like that. It's obviously very flattering to be in that company."
Johnson played for the D-Backs from 1999-2003 and was co-MVP of their 2001 World Series victory in seven games over the Yankees. He was traded to the Bronx Bombers after the 2004 season and returned to Phoenix last winter.
After offseason back surgery, he didn't make his first start until April 24 and recently has worked a bevy of brilliant games.
"I'm on a mini-roll, I think," he said.
Clemens, 45, who signed late for the second consecutive season, has been delayed a tad because of what the Yankees called a fatigued groin. If he remains healthy, it should be an interesting summer as the pair of Hall of Famers vie for position on the strikeout leaderboard.
As Johnson himself noted, he's accomplished his whiff count in nearly 1,000 fewer innings than Clemens, who's worked 4,817 2/3 innings in his 23 seasons. Johnson has charted 3,840 1/3 innings.
"Put that into perspective," Johnson said. "That's one thing I know I'm not going to have. I'm not going to pitch another thousand more innings. So he's got that on me. To put myself where he's at right now in a thousand less innings, I think that says a little bit about what I've been able to accomplish in my career."