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Some lefthanded compliments

Johnson reflects on Schilling, Sox

TAMPA -- Their houses, Randy Johnson estimates, sit no more than a mile apart in a lovely section of Scottsdale, Ariz., known as Paradise Valley.

"Our wives," Johnson said the other morning, "have become very good friends."

But the closeness that once existed between Johnson and his former teammate, Curt Schilling, has taken a detour from the days when they were winning a World Series together for the Arizona Diamondbacks. For one thing, they don't play golf together anymore. A barometer of a friendship gone bad?

"I wasn't the first person to call him, but I'm sure I wasn't the last person to call him to congratulate him after the Game 6 he pitched," Johnson said, referring to Schilling's Miracle of the Sock game in the ALCS against the Yankees. "You ask him that. I wasn't the first, I'm sure, but I wasn't the last.

"I called him after they won the World Series. I called him during the offseason to see how his [ankle was]. I didn't hear back from him too much. You know, we were going to get together and have lunch and talk; I never got that phone call.

"So you know, I did my part as a friend. I have a respect for what we've done together and what he's done for a new franchise. But I'll never say that I didn't make an attempt, you know. I'm not saying he didn't. I know he was extremely busy, going on Air Force One.

"I don't think he exaggerates our relationship. We're not enemies by any means, and no one can take away from what there was before. But I think if you're going to say we're friends . . . I think I talk to my friends a couple of times a week. I did my part."

Relayed Johnson's remarks, Schilling maintained he still considers Johnson a friend. "We definitely spoke less this winter than we have in the past and I don't really attribute that to any one thing or another," Schilling said. "Both of us have four kids and are usually doing something; our lives are busy. I spoke with RJ after Game One versus New York, but I don't remember speaking to him or hearing from him until after the season. If we did, then it's my mistake.

"I think a lot of what has been made of our friendship the past few years has come out of nothing.

"Pedro Gomez [a former Arizona columnist, now ESPN commentator] started the rhetoric about RJ and I not being friends, and I think the main reason this all kind of grew into something is the drastic differences in our personalities. RJ is a very private person, and quiet, I'm not. I have stated pretty emphatically over the years the amount of respect I have for him, and for what he's done, and how much of a friend I consider him. I think that when people went to RJ to speak on this, or ask him about it, he offered a `no comment' or said he didn't want to talk about it. I think members of the media ran with this aspect of the story and gave it its own life."

Johnson is in Yankee pinstripes, imported by George Steinbrenner to do for them what Schilling accomplished for the Red Sox last season: win a world championship, for a team that had no recourse but to turn to a crippled Kevin Brown in Game 7 of the ALCS last season. At 41, Johnson brings credentials even gaudier than those of Schilling. He's a five-time Cy Young Award winner who with a little more run support could have won a sixth last season. In 2004, he became the oldest pitcher to throw a perfect game and third pitcher to strike out 4,000 batters in his career. He led the National League in strikeouts for the fifth time in six seasons, after leading the AL four times with the Seattle Mariners. His earned run average of 2.60 was second only to the Padres' Jake Peavy.

Can he do for the Bronx what Schilling did for Boston?

"We have several other people in this room who are capable of doing that, who have been asked to do that," Johnson said. "Unfortunately, Kevin was hurt a little bit last year, but when he's healthy he's capable of doing that. You saw what he did with the Marlins, San Diego, and the Dodgers. I'm not alone here. [Mike] Mussina is the same way. I've seen what he can do and he's the leader here.

"I'm looking and learning from these guys as well. If they ask if I can help, I'll help in any way, just like I did with Curt. When Curt came over from Philadelphia, he'd won 17 games, the most games he'd won. After we were teammates, he then became the pitcher he is today."

Schilling often has said he and Johnson drove each other to the heights they reached in 2001, when they shared MVP honors in the World Series and were co-winners of Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year award.

"He's been very complimentary of that, and I will never deny that," Johnson said. "I hope I can have the same impact on a Mike Mussina and a Kevin Brown, steer them in the right direction, and that's what I'm here to do."

Johnson insists he wouldn't have turned down a deal to Boston because of Schilling's presence. Trade talks between the Sox and D-Backs never got to the stage that talks with other teams did, so he never had to contemplate playing on Yawkey Way.

"As far as Boston, I was happy to see they won a World Series," Johnson said. "It was a very proud moment for a franchise. It's a new year, I'm here, and hopefully we can make things really interesting this year." To be connected to Schilling, in the present and in posterity, is not the negative some would like to make it, Johnson said.

"It was a great moment for the franchise [in 2001]," he said. "I was just happy to do my part, along with 24 people who had the same mind-set. That's why we won. There's no doubt me and Curt have been linked together. I'm very proud of those moments."

Schilling feels much the same way. "The two years we were together and healthy, I felt that we did some things that hadn't been done," he said. "I got to watch arguably the most dominating lefthanded pitcher in the history of the game work his craft. There is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't have accomplished some of the things I did had it not been for him, no question."

The Sox-Yankee rivalry, Johnson said, is something he has known only from the outside, though he said he and Schilling talked a couple of times last season about the intensity of the experience. "When I was with Arizona, I'd watch those games," he said, "but until you're actually a Hatfield or McCoy, you don't realize what's going on. So now I'm on the inside. I'm not on the outside looking in. I'm part of it."

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