Randy Johnson had all the hype. Kevin Brown, it turns out, had most of the strike-outs.
With his sinker and forkball leaving Houston batters flailing, Brown boosted the San Diego Padres into control of their NL division series with a 2-1 win over the Big Unit and the Astros on Tuesday.Brown was brilliant, striking out a career-high 16 and allowing just two hits in eight innings. Bob Gibson is the only pitcher with more postseason strikeouts, 17, in the 1968 World Series.
Brown pitched a no-hitter for Florida in 1997 but said this victory, in the opener of the best-of-5 series, was bigger.
"I'll take this one any time because of the impact of the situation," he said. "Being in the regular season, that didn't have the meaning for the team that this one did."
Brown's performance rejuvenated the Padres, who struggled in September, particularly after clinching the NL West title. Their goal had been to get overall home-field advantage for the NL playoffs, but they couldn't even get it for the first round.
"We stole the home-field advantage away from them," Tony Gwynn said. "I felt like we were ready to play. The guys were getting antsy. Now they can relax and do what they need to do."
Game 2 is Thursday, with the Padres starting Andy Ashby (17-9) against Shane Reynolds (19-8).
Johnson truly had the home-field advantage, going 5-0 with four shutouts in the Astrodome since the Astros acquired him in a trade with Seattle on July 31.
But then Brown did what everyone expected Johnson to do.
"It was a very dominating performance," said Johnson, who has lost his last four postseason decisions.
"Now I know why a lot of the hitters drag their bats back," added Johnson, who struck out 12 Padres in an interleague game on June 24. "He defies the law of gravity with the pitches he throws. With his forkball and sinker, it's no fun facing a guy like that."
Houston's Killer B's - Craig Biggio, Derek Bell and Jeff Bag-well - were a combined 0-for-10 with seven strikeouts. Catcher Brad Ausmus, who bats eighth, had the two hits off Brown.
"The way Kevin Brown pitched today, I don't care who you are, you're not gonna get a lot of hits," Bagwell said.
"Randy gets a lot of hype, but Kevin is a great pitcher too," Ausmus said.
Brown ignored the hype surrounding the marquee pitching matchup, saying he needed to concentrate on the hitters, not on Johnson.
"Thank goodness I did a good job," Brown said. "That was my focus, and I did that probably as well as I've done it in quite some time."
Both aces were obtained in trades to try to get their teams to the World Series. Brown was there last year, winning a ring with Florida, but became expendable along with the other high-priced Marlins.
The Astros already were in control of the NL Central when they got Johnson, an acquisition that many felt made them the favorite to reach the Series.
Brown's previous strikeout high was 11, which he did three times in his final 11 regular-season starts.
Brown, 18-7 during the regular season, beat Atlanta's Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine in last year's NL championship series despite being weakened by the flu and now has added Johnson to his list.
Trevor Hoffman, who tied the NL record this season with 53 saves, allowed an unearned run and two hits in the ninth.
Bill Spiers led off with a double, and two outs later, Moises Alou hit an infield single that third baseman Ken Caminiti stopped, but threw wide of first to allow Spiers to score.
The Padres had nine hits in eight innings off Johnson.
Greg Vaughn, who hit his 50th homer in his final regular-season at-bat Sunday night, provided the difference when he homered to left on a slider leading off the eighth inning to give San Diego a 2-0 lead. It was his third hit off Johnson.
Jim Leyritz hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the sixth inning to score Gwynn, the only player left from San Diego's 1984 World Series team.
The Padres loaded the bases with no outs on Gwynn's opposite-field double over third baseman Spiers' glove, Vaughn's infield single to third and Caminiti's broken-bat, bloop single to right that fell in just past the reach of Biggio.
Leyrtiz, a right-hander starting for left-handed first baseman Wally Joyner, lifted a sacrifice fly to the warning track in center field.
The Astros, swept by Atlanta in last year's division series, have lost five straight in the postseason dating to the 1986 NL championship series.