The Johnson-Schilling relationship adds further intrigue to a Yankees-- Red Sox rivalry that seems to have Vince McMahon's fingerprints on it. After 52 games the past two years (27 won by Boston), including a split of two Game 7s and several brushback wars and brawls, Boston rightfielder Trot Nixon last week called Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez a "clown," and righthander Bronson Arroyo and outfielder Kevin Millar piled on. "I've learned already that things get amplified here," Johnson says, "but this team is defined by its professionalism. Part of the expectations here [relate to] the way you carry yourself and the way you act. I've noticed that right away."
Johnson fired no such salvos at Schilling, with whom he formed a friendship and one of the greatest pitching duos in history as they carried Arizona to the 2001 world championship. The friendship cooled over the next two years, before Schilling was traded to Boston after the 2003 season. Johnson said he would not have accepted a trade to Boston last July, though he insists that Schilling's presence was not a factor. "It just wasn't a fit," he says.
Johnson says he left messages for Schilling after Boston beat the Yankees in the ALCS and the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series and later bumped into him at church near their Phoenix-area homes, but he did not get a return call. "I understand he was very busy," Johnson says, "flying on Air Force One, campaigning for Bush, doing his [ankle] rehab, talking to ESPN, Fox, CNN, SI, Popular Mechanics, House and Garden--only kidding.
"I'm proud of what we accomplished as teammates. That can never be taken away. I've moved on. He's moved on."
Johnson's introduction to the Boss and his easy transition to a new clubhouse have begun to make him a Yankee, but he knows that first game against Boston will really start to define him in New York. "My job [in that game] is no different than pitching against Baltimore or Toronto or every fifth day when I go out there," he says. "I expect to win. I've never been content with anything I've ever done."
Well, there was that one night last year in Atlanta, May 18. After the game, Johnson celebrated with some teammates at the hotel bar for a bit, then retired to his room. He was so happy, he couldn't sleep. He stayed up until 3 a.m., just laughing out loud, alone. "Belly laughs," Johnson remembers. "Big belly laughs."
He had been flawless, becoming the oldest pitcher to throw a perfect game. For that one night he was as good as even he could ever expect to be. As good as the Yankees hope he will be.