PHOENIX -- The sound echoed through the air-conditioned dome like the cries of a popcorn vendor.
It sank into the Atlanta Brave helmets like a reckless threat. It filled Randy Johnson like helium.
Close your eyes Tuesday at Bank One Ballpark and you could imagine a tire being punctured, or a man being punched.
Open them, and realize it was something more simple, and perhaps scarier.
A baseball hitting a catcher's mitt.
A pitcher finding a heart.
Johnson unleashing arguably the best pitching performance in championship series history for the Diamondbacks with a three-hit, 2-0 shutout of the Braves in the NL opener.
Johnson ending a personal seven-game postseason losing streak that had branded the "Big Unit" as the "Big Useless."
Johnson throwing untouchable 98-mph fastballs, unreachable 95-mph sliders, 200-mph shivers.
Finished off with a 6-foot-10 sigh.
"Assuming someone might (ask), 'Is this a monkey off your back?' This is more like a gorilla. King Kong," Johnson said.
He had an ice pack strapped to his left shoulder, his left arm, his lower back. After nearly three hours of glares and gas, one might have thought he was finally cooling off.
One would be wrong.
After waiting 13 years to find this day within himself, he wasn't ready to let it go just yet.
"I really don't know what to say," he said, his eyes still dancing as he spit into an empty water bottle. "I'm still trying to come down right now."
The Diamondbacks hope that doesn't happen for a couple of a weeks.
Suddenly, their best pitcher was as big as the game. For once, he was more than a parlor trick.
He didn't just wow, he weathered. He wasn't only intimidating, but smart.
Not to mention, so sick of all the criticism that he wanted to yank that oversized cap down over that skinny head and hide.
"I was going to continue to hear about this until I won a ballgame," he said after improving his career postseason record to 3-7.
This one started with only one of the first 23 Brave hitters reaching base, and only on an infield line drive that fell out of leaping Matt Williams' glove.
"It's getting to the last inning and I'm thinking, this could have been a perfect game," the Braves' Chipper Jones said.
It ended with a desperate, exhausted moment that was Johnson's best.
Ninth inning, runners on first and second after two singles, Brian Jordan battling to a 2-and-2 count.
Too exhausted to throw a fastball, a exclamation point that he might have tried earlier in his career, Johnson threw a slider.
All day, when they were thinking fastball in the eyes, he threw something toward the dirt.
"Just about impossible to lay off those pitches," Brave Manager Bobby Cox said.
Jordan swung and missed.
He was beaten not by strength, but common sense.
For the first time in six Octobers, Johnson breathed.
"There was no better feeling than to see him swing at that last pitch," he said.
Which, incidentally drained and all, Johnson still threw at 89 mph.
"The guy was flat-out awesome," Jones said. "That was as good as I've ever seen him."
Jones heard it. The second pitch to him in the seventh inning.
"Never even saw the ball," he said. "It hit the mitt, I looked up, and the scoreboard said it was 99 miles an hour, and I thought, whoa."
Marcus Giles heard it. The rookie hit the ball hard twice, then checked the statistics.
"I felt pretty good at the plate, then realized I was 0 for 4," he said, shaking his head. "You have to respect the fastball, then he drops the slider on you, so you wait for the slider, and the fastball is by you and ..."
Damian Miller has heard it all before. But never like this.
"When he's going good in the first inning, I'll come into the dugout and say something like, 'Boys, it's going to be a fun one,"' said Miller, the Diamondback catcher. "That's what I said today."
He was still hearing it in the sixth inning, after Johnson's one-hitter was nearly ruined by Giles' drive to the right-field fence.
Johnson left the mound glaring at Miller and screaming, "No more! No more!"
He was mad about throwing a slider, and didn't want Miller to call the same pitch again.
Miller didn't agree.
"I felt like yelling, 'No more hanging ones, no more hanging ones!' " he said with a laugh.
Of course, Miller said no such thing. It's not only the opposition that is afraid to challenge Johnson when he's in one of these moods.
"I thought, 'OK, here we go again,' " Miller said. "He gets so jacked up out there, he becomes another person."
In the past, that person would be one who would lose close postseason games because of a careless mistake.
In fact, just last week in the NL division series, he lost to the St. Louis Cardinals when eight solid innings were marred by a two-run homer by rookie Albert Pujols.
On Tuesday, he was different. If this continues, the Braves' season will not.
Bad enough for them that they face a tough Game 3 Friday in Atlanta against Diamondback postseason ace Curt Schilling. But if Johnson has also figured out this postseason stuff ...
Before leaving Tuesday afternoon, he hit the Braves with one last unnerving sound.
"In five days," he said, "I'll be out there pitching again."
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