NEW YORK (AP) â€” For the first half of the season, Randy Johnson was unquestionably the best pitcher in the National League.
It's what the Big Unit did in the second half that put his Cy Young Award candidacy in question.
After going 14-2 with a 1.80 ERA before the All-Star break, Johnson faltered down the stretch as Arizona fell out of the pennant race. He won only five times in his final 16 starts, going 5-5 with a 3.81 ERA after the break.
Nevertheless, Johnson finished the year with a 2.64 ERA â€” second in the league to Los Angeles' Kevin Brown (2.58) â€” and was the league leader in strikeouts (347), complete games (8), shutouts (3), and winning percentage (.731).
``Our guys realize that we are lucky to have Randy and that we don't have to face him,'' former Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter said in September. ``This is a 37-year-old guy who throws 98 mph. He's a remarkable athlete and I feel lucky to have had him pass my way.''
Johnson joined Nolan Ryan as the only pitcher to record 300 strikeouts in three straight seasons and became the 12th player to reach the 3,000-strikeout plateau.
But all that might not be quite enough in a competitive Cy Young field. Atlanta's Tom Glavine (21-9, 3.40 ERA) led the league in wins and was a key component to the Braves' NL East-winning team. Glavine won the awards in 1991 and `98.
``You grow to expect him to win every time,'' manager Bobby Cox said. ``It's like he's been so good, you expect perfection every time out.''
Teammate Greg Maddux, who has four Cy Youngs, is in the running for his record-tying fifth. Maddux went 19-9 with a 3.00 ERA.
St. Louis' Darryl Kile was the only other 20-game winner, but his 3.91 ERA will probably keep him from winning the award.
Johnson, who won the award last year with Arizona and in 1995 with Seattle, is looking to join Maddux and Sandy Koufax as the only back-to-back winners in the NL. Maddux won four straight from 1992-95 and Koufax won in 1965-66.
Johnson is also looking to become the eighth pitcher to win three Cy Young Awards. Boston's Pedro Martinez won his third on Monday.
Roger Clemens has five, followed by Steve Carlton and Maddux with four each. Koufax, Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer also have three.