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Remembering Randy Johnson with the Astros

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Like his fastball, Randy Johnson the Astro was gone in a blink of an eye.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Today, Randy Johnson was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and rightfully so. Johnson is arguably the greatest left-handed pitcher to pitch in the Major Leagues. He was elected with 97.3 percent of the vote. Johnson's resume was robust - he was a World Series champions (2001), World Series Co-Most Valuable Player (2001), five-time Cy-Young award winner (1995, 1999-2002), ten-time All-Star (1990, 1993-1995, 1997, 1999-2002, 2004), winner of 303 games, and second all-time strikeouts with 4875 strikeouts.

"The Big Unit" was truly one of a kind, 6'10'' tall pitcher that could break down any batter with his devastating fastball and slider. He pitched 200 innings in a season 14 times, and did it seven times after the age of 35. Johnson posted a record of 303-166 record with a 10.61 K/9 rate; 3.26 BB/9 rate; .291 BABIP; 3.19 FIP; and a 3.29 ERA in 4135.1 innings pitched. His career WAR was 111.7*.

If you grab a Randy Johnson baseball card, and look at his stats on the back (assuming they all actually fit). There is a gap between Randy Johnson's tremendous runs with the Mariners and the Diamondbacks. For a total of 13 starts in 1998, including two in the playoffs, Randy Johnson was an Astro. Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, and John Halama were subsequently Mariners, but that's another story for another day.

Photo Credit: Andy Lyon

Minutes before the trade deadline was set to expire, the Astros pulled the trigger to land Johnson. At the time the Astros were 5.5 games ahead of the Cardinals in the N.L. Central, and held a 2.5 game lead over the Braves for the best record in the National League at 37-16. The Astros were the favorites to come out the N.L. with Johnson in the fold. The big lefty didn't disappoint from the start, in his first three starts as an Astros he posted a 3-0 record with 0.72 ERA with 23 strikeouts, and 4 walks in 25 innings pitched. That included two complete game shutouts in his first two starts at the Astrodome.

I was lucky enough to be at Johnson's first game at the dome. I may have been sitting in the worst possible seats in the stadium at the top row of the rainbow upper deck seats but it was glorious none the less. Houston fans hadn't seen their team make a in-season move like this before and haven't seen since. It was truly a one of a kind event. The atmosphere was electric, the sound was deafening, and the fans hung on everyone of Johnson's pitches. Johnson completely dominated the Phillies on the way to striking out eight batters, while Jeff Bagwell and Moises Alou each added a home run to cap the Astros 9-0 victory.

Johnson would finish the regular season with a 10-1 record, four complete games, 12 total runs allowed in 84.1 innings, 116 strikeouts, 0.984 WHIP, and 4.46 strikeout-to-walk rate. He even made the cover of Sports Illustrated, a rare feat for a Houston athlete (if you're not named J.J. Watt). The Astros would host the Padres in the divisional round of the playoffs, Johnson would pitch in game one and four in the series. He pitched 14 innings and gave up just three earned runs to San Diego, while striking out 17 and walking two batters. Unfortunately, the Astros were only able to muster one run in those two games against starters Kevin Brown and Sterling Hitchcock. The stars aligned for Astros going into the playoffs, but it was Kevin Brown and the Padres' turn to shine. San Diego would go on to face the Yankees in the World Series and be swept in four games.

Photo Credit: Andy Lyon

That offseason, Johnson went home to Arizona to play for the Diamondbacks after being unable to reach deal on a new contract in Houston. The rest was history, the Astros would win the division crown two of the next three season without advancing in the playoffs. Johnson would have arguably his best stretch of his career in Arizona with a WAR of 37.5 between 1999-2002 and win four-straight Cy-Young awards. Johnson would lead the Diamondbacks to their first World Series championship in 2001, where he was named World Series Co-Most Valuable Player with another former Astro Curt Schilling.

*Courtesy of FanGraphs