When the Washington Nationals were the Montreal Expos, at a time when people didn't question the Canadian team's viability, Randy Johnson pitched for them. When Jordan Zimmermann was 2 years old, Johnson recorded his first major-league victory.
Wednesday night, then, reflects just how long and trying a road it can be for a pitcher to make it to the 300-win club.
Johnson, 45, who got his first victory Sept. 15, 1988, will take the mound for the Giants at Nationals Park, where he'll try to tally his 300th victory. Zimmermann, 23, and the Nationals will attempt to keep Johnson at 299.
The Yankees' Joba Chamberlain said: "All of the guys who get to 300, it's impressive. Because it's a number that you look at that, as a young guy, it's pretty crazy."
Is 300 victories such a crazy number that Johnson will close the door to the club behind him? Assuming he succeeds, he'll become the 24th pitcher to attain the figure. There are no great candidates on the horizon to join him, and many of baseball's current trends project a pessimistic forecast.
"I'd think that Randy would be the last," said Jim Kaat, the MLB Network analyst, who recorded 283 career victories.
Multiple reasons exist, but the best is the most concrete: A look at the list of active victory leaders features the ancient, achy and adolescent. The list reflects the reality that, because of both improved statistical measures and changes of in-game strategy, victories are no longer used as a primary measure of a pitcher's excellence.
The Yankees' CC Sabathia has a Cy Young and is the game's highest-paid starter. And in his ninth season, he has 122 career wins. He averaged 14.63 wins per season in his first eight years, and at that pace, he'd need to pitch for more than 20 years.
Santana, 30, is the second highest-paid pitcher and trails Sabathia with 116 wins entering last night, and he exemplifies very well the modern problem with wins. He picked up 16 wins last year, but he pitched another seven games in which he left with the lead -- subsequently blown by the bullpen.
"Well, that's the thing," Santana said. "All of the things have to go right. It goes over your head. If you tell me that you're pitching longer in the game, deeper in the game, then you have a little bit more control as far as pitching. But it's not the case [now]."
Mets broadcaster Ron Darling said: "Santana, last year, if he had an unlimited pitch count, four of those seven [blown leads], he wins. That's the problem."
To that end, the Texas Rangers, led by team president and 324-game winner Nolan Ryan, are attempting to change the culture. Under new pitching coach Mike Maddux, in conjunction with Ryan, pitchers have more leeway than most organizations grant to their young arms.
"I think when you tell people they have a 100-pitch limit, you put a ceiling on them," said Maddux, brother of 355-game winner Greg Maddux. "Well, there is no ceiling. Keep going out there, and the hitters, they'll let you know when you've had enough."
Entering last night, Rangers' starters averaged 6.22 innings per start, considerably higher than last year's average of 5.81.
Bob Waterman, an analyst at the Elias Sports Bureau, remembers reading newspaper and magazine stories in the 1970s that argued baseball would never have another 300-game winner. Johnson would be the 10th since 1982 to reach 300.
"I think there'll be a drought for a while, but I'm not willing to say that's it," said Steve Hirdt, Elias' executive vice president.
It requires the sort of time Johnson invested. Said the Yankees' Andy Pettitte, who has 220 wins at age 36, "There's just no way. I don't think I'd be married if I stuck around long enough to do that."
- With staff writer