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"I don't remember saying any obscenities, because my wife and daughter were right there," Johnson says now.
Nonetheless, the reporter got a story, even if it wasn't the one he'd come for.
On May 5 in Phoenix, Johnson was pitching his usual overpowering game against the San Diego Padres. In his first at-bat, the San Diego pitcher, Sterling Hitchcock, who'd played with Johnson in Seattle, uncorked a fastball that struck Johnson squarely in his left elbow.There was a collective gasp in the ballpark. The benches emptied. Buck Showalter led the Diamondbacks contingent, on the way to the plate to calm his pitcher.
Johnson pointed his bat at the mound and called out a few choice words. The pitch had hit him on a protective pad and didn't cause any damage, but it angered him anyway.
"My career is my left elbow, whether he meant to do it or not," Johnson says. "I let him know I wasn't happy."
Had he been hit on purpose?
"Well, I don't know," he says. "The two guys before me hit home runs. Why would he want to hit me? I don't know."
Back in 1997, during a spring training game against the San Francisco Giants, Johnson accidentally hit a player named J.T. Snow, knocking him cold and fracturing his eye socket. Johnson was mortified.
"He was laying down in all this blood," he says. "I realized that any pitcher, not just myself, has the ability to end someone's career."
Hence, his anger at Hitchcock.
Showalter was holding Johnson back. According to some accounts, Johnson tossed Showalter out of his way. But Johnson insists he never intended to charge the mound.
Instead, he says he told Hitchcock:
"I want you to know that I won't forget about it, and your teammates are going to know that I haven't forgotten about it, too. So there'll be a little bit of a fear factor in the back of the hitters' minds, too, that maybe someday, not this year, not next year . . ."