PHOENIX - It was billed as the duel in the desert, and, for once, the hype matched the performance.
With the klieg lights turned on full blast Saturday night and ESPN dearly wishing the matchup had been pushed back 24 hours, the two pitchers who have won the last three National League Cy Youngs, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson, punched (out) and counterpunched through seven electrifying innings.
The latest matchup between the two heavyweights went to the Braves' Glavine, who countered Johnson's 97 m.p.h. fastball with an 80 m.p.h. changeup and came away with a 3-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks before a crowd of 45,264 fans at Bank One Ballpark.
"Sometimes in sports, good matchups bring out the best in people," said Glavine, who improved to 4-1. "Going against Randy brings out the best in me. As soon as my game ended in Houston, I was gearing up for this one."
It was the sixth meeting between the pair of left-handers and Glavine now leads 3-2 with one no-decision. In eight innings, Johnson gave up six hits, including home runs by Andruw Jones and Quilvio Veras, walked two and threw 130 pitches, 84 for strikes. Glavine went seven, allowed five hits and one run, while throwing 95 pitches, 55 for strikes.
"Randy Johnson is one of the toughest guys in the world to beat," manager Bobby Cox said. "You're lucky if you can scratch a couple of runs off him."
Jones delivered his seventh home run in the second, launching a Johnson fastball into the center field seats, a drive estimated at 426 feet. The home run, his sixth in the last 13 games, tied him with Chipper Jones for the team lead. Brian Jordan followed Chipper Jones' single (his sixth straight hit) with a double to left, scoring Jones and spotting Glavine a 2-0 lead.
That was the last spot of trouble Johnson encountered until the seventh. He had set down 10 of the 11 batters he'd faced since Jordan's double when Veras made it 3-1 with his second home run.
"You go out and face Randy, you don't anticipate getting much to work with," Glavine said. "Having a two-run cushion makes a big difference."
Johnson, whose shutout streak ended at 13 consecutive innings in the second, was off just enough to run up his pitch count. By the end of four, he'd thrown 79 pitches, and he topped 100 pitches in the sixth.
But his velocity didn't decline. Just the opposite. His fastball was consistently clocked at 97 mph in the fifth and sixth when he struck out four of the six hitters he faced to run his game total to 11, the 153rd double-digit strikeout game of his remarkable career.
Javy Lopez became Johnson's 3,100th strikeout victim to end the sixth, the 11 strikeouts matching the Braves' season-high.
Wes Helms (3 strikeouts) went down swinging to start the seventh, but Veras followed with his second home run in his last four at-bats, driving a Johnson fastball just over Reggie Sanders' leap at the right field wall.
Glavine, the major league's walk leader, set down eight of the first nine hitters he faced. In the fourth, his command became erratic and the Diamondbacks strung together a double (Steve Finley), single (Jay Bell) and two walks (Luis Gonzalez and Mark Grace) to pin Glavine to the ropes.
But he came out of the corner swinging, striking out Sanders to strand two runners and preserve a 2-1 lead.
"Tommy was Tommy," Cox said. "He just pitched a whale of a ballgame."
Glavine had some help. Left fielder B.J. Surhoff threw out Sanders trying to stretch a single to end the second, and shortstop Rafael Furcal made a nice pickup of Veras' throw to force Williams at second in the seventh.
Glavine gave way to Mike Remlinger in the eighth and the game briefly turned ugly. Finley doubled and Chipper Jones' error on Bell's ground ball put runners on the corners for Remlinger's successor, John Rocker.
Gonzalez, the major league's home run leader, tapped Rocker's first pitch to Veras, who started an inning-ending double play to quash Arizona's final threat.
"(Greg) Maddux said before the game, I can't wait to watch this one," Cox said.
It was worth the wait.
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com