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On This Date in Sports June 24, 1997: Firepower on Display

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Randy Johnson of the Seattle Mariners strikes out 19 but suffers a 4-1 loss at the hands of the Oakland Athletics at the Kingdome. The Big Unit’s night is spoiled by his teammate at USC, Mark McGwire, who goes 2-for-4 with a double and a home run with two RBI. The home run in the fifth inning is the longest in the history of the Kingdome, traveling 538 feet.

Randy Johnson was off the best start in his career at 11-1 for the Mariners, managed by Lou Piniella. Meanwhile, while playing in his free-agent year, Mark McGwire was off to a good start with 26 home runs heading into a Tuesday Night game in Seattle. The A’s, led by Art Howe, had Steve Karsay on the mound, entering the game with a record of 1-7.

Randy Johnson got off to a fast start, striking out a Jason McDonald and Mark McGwire in the first inning around a single by Rafael Bouringal. After the Mariners failed to score off Karsay in the first, Johnson struck out three in the second, stranding two runners. Randy Johnson continued to get Oakland batters to swing and miss in the third inning but allowed three hits and two runs as Geronimo Berroa and McGwire hit back-to-back doubles after a Bouringal single. 

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The Mariners could not get the bats going as Randy Johnson, not trailing 2-0, continued to collect strikeouts, fanning Mark Belhorn and McDonald in the fourth. After another scoreless inning by Steve Karsay, Johnson went to the mound and struck out Bornigal and Berroa. Looking to put away Mark McGwire with a 3-2 count, Randy Johnson left a pitch to fat on the plate as the ball was crushed to left-center, landing 538 feet away from where it was hit, giving the Athletics a 3-0 lead. The ball was the longest home run ever hit inside the Kingdome. After Jose Canseco followed with a double, Johnson got Pat Lennon for his 13th strikeout of the game. Johnson struck out two more in the sixth, but none in the seventh, as the Mariners continued to be confounded by Oakland’s pitching as c came on and pitched two hitless innings after Steve Karsay allowed just three hits in six innings. 

The Big Unit struck out the side in the eighth and returned to the mound with a chance to make history. Instead, the Athletics added another run on a homer by George Williams. Randy Johnson would strike out Mark Belhorn to reach 19 and went the distance, giving up four runs on 11 hits. The Mariners, meanwhile, finally got on the board as Ken Griffey Jr led off the ninth with a triple against Billy Taylor. Edgar Martinez scored on a groundout as the Mariners could not muster anything else, losing 4-1.

Randy Johnson would finish the season with a record of 20-4, with an ERA of 2.28, and 293 strikeouts as he finished second in Cy Young voting to Roger Clemens of the Toronto Blue Jays. Mark McGwire, meanwhile, would be traded by the Athletics to the St. Louis Cardinals a month later, hitting 58 total home runs for the season, including 34 with Oakland before the trade.