"I think at this point in my career I really just want to win ballgames," he said. "Everything else is just kind of secondary. Whether it's going out and striking out a lot of players, it really doesn't dictate the outcome of the game."
Johnson was reminded of that fact again Tuesday, when he struck out eight Brewers to pass Roger Clemens for sole possession of second place on the all-time strikeout list yet still came out on the losing end of a 7-1 decision.
The eight punchouts give him 4,680 in his career, and he now trails only Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who fanned 5,714 during his 27-year career, a record that almost certainly will never be broken.
"Nolan Ryan pitched 27 years," Johnson said. "I mean I just kind of laugh at that and marvel at that.
"Obviously, throughout the course of my 4,700-plus strikeouts, there've been some strikeouts that have been key strikeouts, don't get me wrong," he said. "And there've been some games that have been fun to pitch because of the strikeouts. But, the bottom line, especially at this time in my career at age 44, just winning ballgames."
Johnson was speaking from a team standpoint, but individual victories are also important as Johnson chases one of baseball's most coveted milestones: 300 wins. Johnson is 4-2 this year, which gives him 288 for his career, though if the Arizona bullpen had pitched better for him in a pair of games and the offense come through in another, he could easily have seven or eight wins.
Victories have been few and far between for the D-backs on the road of late, as they've dropped 10 of their past 12 away from Chase Field.
The strikeout that vaulted Johnson past Clemens was his first of the game, and came against Mike Cameron, the second hitter in the first inning. He got the veteran to swing and miss at a slider. Catcher Miguel Montero initially hesitated, not sure what to do with the historic ball. He eventually decided to treat it like any other strikeout and throw it around the horn.
When the ball came back to third baseman Mark Reynolds he handed it to a batboy, who in turn passed it on to the Major League Baseball official on hand to authenticate it.
"I'm proud to be his teammate," outfielder Eric Byrnes said.
"He's one of the greatest of all time, and it's a privilege to get to watch him up close," Arizona right-hander Dan Haren said.
The D-backs led, 1-0, in this one until the sixth, when Ryan Braun hit an 0-1 slider way over the wall in left field for a two-run homer.
"I just tried to take a little bit off and try to get him out in front," Johnson said. "The pitch was down, if you can believe that, but you know, you live by the sword, you die by the sword, and the slider's been my best pitch the last four games. It's complemented my fastball. You just have to hit your spots with it, and if they do make contact, hopefully it's not anything like that."
The Brewers finally chased Johnson one inning later as they pushed across two more runs, only one of which was earned.
The 29,478 on hand at Miller Park showed their appreciation for Johnson, giving him a standing ovation when he fanned Cameron, which prompted Johnson to tip his cap. He also acknowledged their applause when he walked off the mound after the first inning. When his work was done for the night, they gave him one last standing ovation and he took off his cap before disappearing into the dugout.
"The one thing that I won't forget in my career is the crowd," Johnson said. "I really appreciated that. Walking off the mound to get a standing ovation like that as a visiting player, that meant a lot. That's pretty classy, and I won't ever forget that."
Johnson, showing the wisdom that comes with experience, is trying to savor moments like that.
"None of this stuff really sinks in," he said. "My career has been pretty much a blur. Probably hasn't been as enjoyed as it should. So I kind of look at a game like today, and the bottom line is winning ballgames, and you kind of detach yourself a little bit and you realize that 'You know what? I probably don't have many more games ahead of me to pitch.'
"And if I retired right now, I would be pretty proud of where I stand in the history of the game, simply because I never imagined doing these things. I just always threw really hard in high school and Little League and in the Minor Leagues, and to be able to gather some command on my pitches and be able to be consistent and have longevity means a lot."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.