300-game winners awaken treasured memories; Seaver on vino

SAN FRANCISCO — Covering Randy Johnson’s 300th victory was a distinct privilege in and of itself. That milestone continued to pay psychic dividends Saturday for us baseball writers with long memories.

As you probably know by now if you’re reading this, the Giants invited fellow 300-game winners Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver to help honor Johnson. These weren’t just guys brought in to give the pregame ceremony star power. These were guys who gave me enduring baseball memories, all-time greats I was lucky enough to see at the height of their skills.

Perry made it entertaining to be a Giants fan in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Every so often the umpires practically undressed him on the mound to check for whatever he was supposedly dabbing on the baseball to throw his spitter, and you knew they weren’t going to find anything.

He also won quite frequently. I’ll always remember his last victory as a Giant — Game 1 of the 1971 National League Championship Series against the Pirates. I still don’t know how my dad did it, but he got tickets for that game, in the very top row of Section 5 in the upper deck at Candlestick. As far as I was concerned, we might as well have sitting right behind the dugout. Willie McCovey and Tito Fuentes each hit two-run homers that day, and Perry did the rest by fending off Pittsburgh for a 5-4 complete-game victory. Of course, the Giants lost the next three games and the series, and then came the Sam McDowell trade that sent Perry to Cleveland. At this point I’d prefer to change the subject.

My lasting memory of Ryan was forged on Sept. 14, 1988 (thank you, baseball-reference.com), when he pitched for the Houston Astros at Cincinnati and defeated the Reds, 7-1. As I recall, talk that Ryan might be in his final days with the Astros already had proliferated. So it was a thrill to see Ryan throw a four-hit complete game and strike out 13. Memories play tricks (unless baseball-reference.com can confirm them), but I recall Ryan looking a little more jubilant than might be expected as his teammates engulfed him after the final out. After all, he had just proven that he wasn’t finished yet. His performance the next few years with the Texas Rangers indeed demonstrated that he had plenty left.

The first time I saw Seaver pitch was on Aug. 31, 1969, in the first game of a Mets-Giants doubleheader at Candlestick. Willie McCovey, who was in the home stretch of his Most Valuable Player season, hit a monstrous triple in the second inning. And that was just about it for the Giants. Seaver allowed six other hits and struck out 11 in an 8-0 Mets triumph. Oh, and he pitched a complete game, just like Perry and Ryan did. No wonder I developed an affinity for that all-too-rare feat.

Fast-forward 10 seasons. Seaver had migrated to the Cincinnati Reds, and McCovey, after a brief exile with San Diego and Oakland, had rejoined the Giants and was approaching the end of his Hall of Fame career. On this June 30 afternoon, McCovey hit two drives to the center-field warning track. And that was just about it for the Giants. Seaver pitched a three-hitter in a 2-0 Reds victory.

That ties in with Seaver’s remarks about his second career: Winemaking. He operates Seaver Family Vineyards in Calistoga, releasing his wine under the label “GTS.” For the uninitiated, that stands for George Thomas Seaver, the right-hander’s given name.

Said Seaver of his current passion, “It’s about as much fun as a three-hit shutout.”

Seaver presented Johnson with a magnum of his ’06 Cabernet to commemorate victory No. 300. On the bottle, Seaver wrote in silver Sharpie above his autograph, “R.J. — Welcome to the club!”

The wine is for Johnson to share with whomever he pleases. The memories he, Seaver and others of his ilk provided are for all to enjoy.

— Chris Haft

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