We thought we had seen the best of Randy Johnson.
The four Cy Young Awards.
The 20-strikeout game.
The three wins in the 2001 World Series.
We thought, that at the age of 40, and coming off knee surgery, Johnson was mortal.
We were wrong.
Did you see him Tuesday night? The zeroes on the scoreboard, the smile on his face?
Perfect. Just perfect.
Years from now, we'll remember where we were and what we were doing when Johnson pitched his masterpiece against the Atlanta Braves.
This was Tiger Woods in the 1997 Masters. Michael Jordan burying a jump shot to win his sixth NBA championship. Secretariat by 31 lengths in the Belmont.
Greatness at its peak.
‘‘It didn’t faze me,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘Winning the game was the biggest, most important thing.’’
That's so Johnson. We want celebration and he punctures the balloons.
Johnson never has been comfortable talking about his accomplishments. He prefers to let others do the shouting for him.
Midway through the 2002 season I began researching a story that was to compare Johnson's best years to those of Los Angeles Dodgers' Hall of Fame left-hander Sandy Koufax.
When I told Johnson why I wanted to talk to him, he looked at me like I had shot his dog.
Maybe that's why I admire Johnson as much as I do. Yes, he can be grumpy and irritable at times. But he is unpretentious and genuine, and how many superstar athletes can you say that about?
Funny, isn't it? Just 24 hours ago, there was talk that Arizona should trade Johnson. The Diamondbacks were going nowhere this season, so get some prospects for the Big Unit.
Anyone still want to make a deal?
Didn't think so.
In a way, that's what Johnson's career with the Diamondbacks has been about — changing perception.
The moment he signed a free-agent contract with Arizona on Dec. 1, 1998, he made the Diamondbacks relevant.
The 65-win expansion season? Yamil Benitez and Brent Brede? Forgotten. Here came Steve Finley, swayed in part by Johnson's belief in the Diamondbacks' future. Nine months later, Arizona celebrated its first National League West Division title.
Remember the heartbreak that swept across the Valley after Byung-Hyun Kim's blown saves in Games 4 and 5 of the 2001 World Series?
Johnson won Game 6, won Game 7 in relief, and Kim didn't have to enter the witness protection program.
The stakes weren't as significant Tuesday. But faith in the Diamondbacks was as shallow as it's been since ’98. The 2-8 homestand had left a bitter aftertaste, and the 13-game, 13-day road trip seemed to be the beginning of the end.
Johnson's perfect game doesn't change reality. It's a rainbow among the storm clouds.
But we're not talking about Matt Mantei today. We're not yelling at Elmer Dessens. We're not wondering about manager Bob Brenly's future.
We are marvelling at a 40-year-old pitcher who was supposed to be past his prime. A man with no cartilage in his right knee. A teammate who always seem to shine brightest when it's darkest.
Remarkable athletes have crossed our path. Charles Barkley. Jake Plummer. Danny White.
They all take a back seat to Randy Johnson. He's the best we've seen and likely the best we'll ever see.
He made our jaws drop again Tuesday night, and here's a prediction:
The next time Johnson pitches at Bank One Ballpark, there will be more than 27,000 people in the stands.