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07/14/2004 8:00 AM ET

Top 10 first-half moments

Clemens, Johnson prove it's good to be 40

By John Schlegel / MLB.com



Barry Bonds has a few weeks before he turns 40, but his pair of all-time marks fit right on the list. (Jack Dempsey/AP)




If there's an age-old adage that can be gleaned from the first half of the 2004 baseball season, it's this: It's good to be 40, or even pushing 40.

Two pitchers in their 40s -- Roger Clemens of the Astros and Randy Johnson of the Diamondbacks -- made some history, and they both did it by continuing to be dominant in the present.


Meanwhile, a slugger who's turning the big 4-0 later this month hit a couple of other big numbers, as Barry Bonds not only caught and passed godfather Willie Mays on the all-time homers list, but also did the same to Rickey Henderson atop the all-time walks list.


You didn't have to be up in years to make a mark the first few months of the 2004 season, but it obviously didn't hurt.


Here's a rundown, in chronological order, of the Top 10 Moments of baseball's first half of 2004:


1. Godfather I and II

Bonds hits 660 ( 56K | 350K) and 661 ( 56K | 350K)

During the winter, Bonds was so depressed over the death of his father, former Major Leaguer Bobby Bonds, that he couldn't bring himself to get out and hit to prepare for another season.


Then Willie Mays stepped in and got the engine running again, playing the role left vacant when Bobby Bonds succumbed to cancer last year.


How did the godson reward the living legend? By passing him to take over the No. 3 spot on the all-time homers list. Barry hit No. 660 on April 12 on a beautiful Opening Day at SBC Park, and got the ball back after it went into McCovey Cove when kayaker and part-time Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonator Admin Ellison fished it out and presented it to Bonds and Mays.


No. 661 came the very next day, and the legend sent his godson on up the charts.


2. Rivalry Romp

Sox go 6-for-7 vs. Yanks ( 56K | 350K)

The game's marquee rivalry went nitro with the Alex Rodriguez soap opera over the winter, so the first meeting between the Red Sox and Yankees this season was hyped perhaps more than any April series in history.


Well, at least until the next one a week later.


The April 16-19 series in Boston became a Sox fan's delight, as A-Rod went 0-for-the-weekend until his last at-bat on Patriot Day as the Sox took three of four. Then the next weekend, the two-headed freak show headed down to Yankee Stadium, where Pedro Martinez pitched seven shutout innings in the April 25 finale of a three-game sweep for the Sox.


3. 5, 4, 3 ... 2!

Rocket passes Carlton on K list ( 56K | 350K)

Not bad for a retired guy in his 40s, eh? Roger that.


Roger Clemens reversed his retirement course and signed with the hometown Astros over the winter, joining former Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte and making a lot of news.


On May 5, he made a bit of history, passing lefty Steve Carlton for No. 2 on the all-time strikeouts list. Clemens struck out Pittsburgh's (for the time being at least) Raul Mondesi for his 4,137th career K.


For Astros fans, the kicker is that was only one part of his 9-0 start, a string of 12 outings that proved beyond the shadow of a doubt -- as if anyone had any -- that Clemens still has the right stuff to be the Rocket.


4. Perfect Unit

Johnson achieves perfection ( 56K | 350K)

Still throwing 97 mph into the final inning, Randy Johnson was dominating much like he has during his career when he faced the Atlanta Braves on May 18.


But this was a night like none other. It was a perfect night.


At 40 years, seven months, Johnson became the oldest pitcher in history to pitch a perfect game, only the 17th in history, period. After he struck out Eddie Perez for his 13th K of the night, Johnson maintained his stoic stare until catcher Robby Hammock bounced his way to the mound for a hug, eliciting a big smile from Big Unit.


Five Cy Young Awards are great, as was becoming only the fourth player to reach 4,000 strikeouts in July.


This one night was perfection.


5. Howdy, A-Rod

Superstar SS returns to Texas ( 56K | 350K)

Just a couple of weeks before the Yankees visited Texas and the resurgent Rangers, local fans had warmly received catcher Pudge Rodriguez, a player who'd grown up in the organization but now was squatting for Detroit after winning his World Series ring in Florida.


So how did they receive A-Rod, a player who came in with the richest contract in sports history and split after three seasons, for the Yankees no less?


Put it this way: Can "boo" be considered a four-letter word?


A-Rod responded to the jeers with a jack, homering in his first at-bat. But the Rangers got the last laugh, winning that one and taking two of three in the series en route to a remarkable first half.


6. He's Vlad, You Know It!

Guerrero goes for nine RBIs ( 56K | 350K)

Every day in Spring Training was practically an education for the Angels. The more they saw of Vladimir Guerrero, the more they were amazed. It was one thing to know about him and snag him as a free agent, but another thing to actually experience Vlad.


Then came his performance on June 2, and their amazement reached a new level.


Big Vladdy drove in a club-record nine runs, smacking two homers and, well, basically doing it all at the plate in a 10-7 Angels victory over the Red Sox. "I've never seen a night like that," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.


7. Junior Achievement

Griffey joins 500 Homer Club ( 56K | 350K)




It took him a week to get that final one slugged, but Ken Griffey Jr. was right on time when he hit No. 500 on June 20 to become only the 20th player in baseball history to reach the milestone.


First, it was on Father's Day, a tribute not only to his father -- former Major Leaguer Ken Griffey -- but also to his kids. Throw in the fact that his mother told Junior that he'd be hitting the homer that day, and it was destiny. Well, that and the magical stroke that launched a 393-foot homer off Matt Morris of the Cardinals and the 499 before it.


In a season in which he's putting injury struggles behind him to join the All-500 Homer Club outfield in the All-Star Game, it was truly a day to remember for Junior.


8. Rivalry Reloaded

Yanks, Sox go 13 ( 56K | 350K)

For all those sick of the hype surrounding the Red Sox and Yankees, their July 1 matchup was a game you simply couldn't ignore.


Whatever the history, and everybody knows there's plenty, this was just a baseball fan's delight, a contest as thrilling as the regular season can get.


The game-saving face plant Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter took into the front row at Yankee Stadium will go down as the defining moment of what turned into 13 glorious innings of baseball. Jeter's catch with two outs in the 12th extended what already had been a thriller well before Yankees backup catcher John Flaherty's single put an end to it all in the bottom of the 13th.


9. Walk On By

Bonds becomes all-time walks leader ( 56K | 350K)

As all-time records go, there was not a lot of ceremony to this one. Perhaps it's because the guy setting the record would have preferred not to walk into the history books, but rather bash.


Bonds and his run of homers these last few years begat the all-time walks record, passing Rickey Henderson with No. 2,191. With so many of the walks coming intentionally and others presenting themselves as technically unintentional, yet clearly intentional free passes, bases on balls have become a necessary evil for Bonds.


For one thing, they're helping to keep him shy of Hank Aaron's all-time homers mark, the all-time record he really seeks. And, no matter what happens after he walks, everyone in the world knows Bonds would rather swing the bat.


Still, a record's a record, and Bonds has walked right up to the top of the list.


10. Gagne Streak Gone

Saves streak ends at 84 ( 56K | 350K)

This was one blown save worthy of a standing ovation. That's exactly what Eric Gagne got on July 6, when his streak of 84 successful save opportunities came to a halt against Arizona.


The Dodger Stadium faithful, who spent much of the last two years or so reveling in Gagne's "Game Over" introduction with soundtrack by Guns N' Roses, rewarded their closer with a curtain call after he'd given up the lead in the ninth. The Dodgers, who had ridden Gagne's perfection for that same amount of time, rewarded him by coming back to win the game.


Gagne's streak obliterated the old streak of 54 games set by Tom Gordon, earned him the Cy Young Award last year and generally elevated Gagne into the upper echelon of the game's superstars.


Even if it wasn't a fitting end for a Gagne appearance, it was a fitting way to close out the top moments of the first half of 2004.

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