All it took was one year, and doubling the team payroll, for the Arizona Diamondbacks to go from an expansion club to NL West champion.
Randy Johnson, the biggest of several free agents Arizona signed after losing 97 games while debuting in 1998, pitched a five-hitter and added an RBI single as the Diamondbacks clinched the division title with an 11-3 win last night over the Giants in San Francisco.
Arizona became the first expansion club to win a division title in less than eight years. The Florida Marlins, who won a World Series championship in their fifth year, were a wild-card team in that 1997 season.
Johnson (16-9) allowed three unearned runs, all in the first inning, but retired 14 straight batters after that in his major league-leading 12th complete game. He struck out 11, increasing his major league-best total to 353.
The 353 strikeouts moved Johnson past Bob Feller (348 for Cleveland in 1946) and Rube Waddell (349 for the Philadelphia A's in 1904) and into fourth place on the list for strikeouts in a season. Only Nolan Ryan and Sandy Koufax have struck out more batters in a year.
Johnson has 22 double-digit strikeout games this year, tying the NL record set by Koufax in 1965.
After Doug Mirabelli grounded out to third to end the game, the Diamondbacks emptied out of the dugout for a tame celebration.
The Diamondbacks scored four runs in the first off Shawn Estes (11-10) on an RBI single by Jay Bell, an RBI double by Bernard Gilkey, a sacrifice fly by Steve Finley and an error by Giants left fielder Barry Bonds.
BRAVES 4, EXPOS 3: Ozzie Guillen's first homer in more than a year gave visiting Atlanta its fifth straight win. Guillen, whose last homer came June 24, 1998, against the Yankees, hit a 2-2 pitch in the 10th from Guillermo Mota (2-4) into the right field stands with two outs for his 26th career homer in 6,570 career at-bats. The win gave the Braves a five-game lead in the NL East over the Mets, who lost to Philadelphia. Atlanta lowered its magic number for clinching its eighth straight division title to four.
REDS 5, CARDINALS 4: In Cincinnati, Sean Casey's check-swing single drove in a pair of runs during a four-run sixth inning that rallied Cincinnati.
"I was looking for a good pitch. It was a fastball up," Casey said. "It hit the sweet spot of the bat. I knew it was in there. If I had swung through it would have been right at [left fielder Ray Lankford], so it's a good thing I checked my swing."
The Reds kept Mark McGwire stuck at 59 homers and overcame a three-run deficit set up by their throwing errors to make up ground in the NL playoff chase.
Cincinnati moved within a game of New York for the NL wild card as the Mets lost in Philadelphia. The Reds are 2 1/2 games behind Houston in the NL Central.
"That's the biggest win we've had all year, no question about it," Manager Jack McKeon said. "The way we came back after being down 4-1 -- if that doesn't give us a lift, I don't know what will."
PHILLIES 3, METS 2: In Philadelphia, Mike Lieberthal's RBI single off Armando Benitez capped a two-run eighth-inning rally that sent New York to its fourth straight loss.
The Mets, still stunned from their three losses to NL East-leading Atlanta, further jeopardized their playoff hopes by blowing a 2-1 lead.
The Mets fell five games behind the Braves, who beat Montreal. Their lead in the wild-card race was cut to one over Cincinnati.
"It's like we're on the beach and the tide went out and we're stuck on the beach," Mets catcher Mike Piazza said. "Hopefully, the tide will come back in and get us going."
ROCKIES 5, MARLINS 3: In Miami, Todd Helton homered and added a tiebreaking two-run triple in the eighth. Rockies Manager Jim Leyland, who led Florida to the World Series in 1997, won his first game at Pro Player Stadium since leaving the Marlins at the end of last season. Florida swept a home series against Colorado in August.
"This place will always be special," said Leyland, who spent two seasons as Florida's skipper before heading West. "Every time I'm here, there are going to be pleasant memories."
CUBS 9, PIRATES 0: Roosevelt Brown hit a three-run triple and drove in another run, Shane Andrews had three RBI, and Kyle Farnsworth scattered three hits and two walks over seven innings to lead Chicago at home.
Farnsworth (5-9) struck out seven. He missed a chance for his second career complete game when he was hit in the left forearm while batting in the seventh inning.
Jason Schmidt (13-11) gave up six runs and 10 hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings.
ASTROS 9, BREWERS 4: Visiting Houston rallied with four runs in the eighth for the victory. Milwaukee starter Hideo Nomo left with a 4-2 lead, but relievers Eric Plunk (4-4) and Hector Ramirez failed to protect it.
DODGERS 5, PADRES 1: In Los Angeles, Kevin Brown pitched eight strong innings and drove in the go-ahead run to beat his former team for the first time in three decisions.