Johnson again didn't get win No. 299; Jose Lopez ended that with an RBI hit in the sixth. Then Lopez sent an RBI single off the wall in the 12th inning, leading the Seattle Mariners to a 2-1 victory over the anemic San Francisco Giants on Friday night.
This was probably the Big Unit's final outing in the city where he, Griffey and Alex Rodriguez led the Mariners into their heyday in the mid-1990s. And it was successful in every way except for not getting that suddenly elusive step away from 300 victories.
"It was nice to come back here and pitch well," Johnson said, after rebounding from a seven-run shelling by the Mets last weekend. "I needed that personally. If this was my last start [here], then I got the opportunity to walk off the mound here and pay my respects to the fans that have been very good to me."
He went 130-74 from 1989-98 with Seattle, and won the first of his five Cy Young Awards here before an unpopular trade to Houston in the middle of a game in 1998. He has the most strikeouts (2,162) and shutouts (19) in Mariners history.
He's 45 now and parts of that long, flowing mane and goatee are gray. But for much of Friday, his results were vintage 1990s -- six hits, one run, seven strikeouts. The cheering crowd of 38,520 was only disappointed he didn't last longer than 5 1/3 innings.
Seattle had scored one run in its previous 28 innings before San Francisco's Justin Miller (1-1) walked Wladimir Balentien leading off the 12th. Patrick Misch entered and Russell Branyan singled off him, sending Balentien to third. Rob Johnson walked to load the bases before Lopez's shot banged off the hand-operated scoreboard for his sixth career game-ending hit -- and third this month.
One was a home run by Aaron Rowand, on Vargas' fourth pitch of the game. Thirty-four of the next 35 Giants went hitless. San Francisco has scored seven runs in its last five games, four of those one-run losses.
"With what he has at stake out there, every outing he's probably going to be pretty dialed in, so I was just trying to keep our team in the ball game," Vargas said of Johnson.
Johnson concurred, saying, "I don't think my concentration was nearly as good against the Mets as it was tonight."
With his fastball still reaching 94 mph and sliders biting at hitters' ankles, Johnson carried a three-hit shutout into the sixth. But then he allowed a single and a walk around his final strikeout. His pace slowed. He began cursing at himself for missing the strike zone.
Finally, on Johnson's 30th pitch of the inning, Lopez lined an RBI single that scored Balentien to tie the game at 1.
When he left with one out and the bases loaded, Johnson stopped just before the foul line near third base, took off his cap and waved it toward every corner of the stadium. The crowd roared.
"I wanted to express my thank you to the fans, to tip my cap," he said. "It's been fun for years for me here."
Johnson walked three and threw 115 pitches, his most since a season-high 116 last Aug. 22 against Florida.
He has allowed just five runs in four starts at Seattle's new home. His next attempt for No. 299 is scheduled for Wednesday against Atlanta. He is trying to become the 24th pitcher with 300 wins, the fifth since 1970.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu elected to rest Griffey against the left-handed Johnson, ruining the theater of two of the biggest stars in Seattle history facing each other for the second and perhaps final time at Safeco Field.
Griffey thrilled the crowd by emerging with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth for his first pinch hit appearance for Seattle in at least 10 years. He hit a soaring flyball that Rowand caught on the warning track in right-center field to force extra innings.
- The Giants reinstated IF Juan Uribe from the bereavement list after he returned from a trip to his native Dominican Republic to visit his ailing grandfather. IF-OF Eugenio Velez was optioned to Triple-A Fresno.