A brief history of pitchers with 20 strikeout games
Strikeouts are sexy. Well at least according to the Washington Nationals’ star pitcher Max Scherzer. He would know too. On Wednesday night Scherzer struck out 20 Detroit Tigers during a nine-inning game.
“Tonight, at the end of the night, was a special night,” Scherzer said. “Because, I mean, the strikeouts are sexy. And to be able to punch out 20 — it’s sexy.”
He tied the MLB record for most K’s in a nine-inning game. The only other people to do so are Roger “The Rocket” Clemens, who accomplished the feat twice in 1986 and again in 1996 while playing for the Boston Red Sox and Kerry Wood of the Chicago Cubs, who struck out 20 Houston Astros batters in 1998.
If you want to get technical about it – two others have done it as well but their records are differently labeled.
Of course there is everyone’s hero and beloved 6’10” right-hander Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson. On May 8, 2001, while a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Johnson struck out 20 Cincinnati Reds batters within nine innings.
Unfortunately for Johnson, the game went into extra innings. Johnson didn’t need more than nine innings to accrue his 20 K’s, but since the went into extra innings the game is not considered an “official” 20-strikeout game by MLB.
Still it is considered by almost everyone else as the same record that Wood, Clemens and Scherzer now hold.
There was one other man that struck out over 20 batters in one game and there is a good chance that you’ve never heard his name before. Tom Cheney struck out 21 batters once on September 12, 1962 while playing for the Washington Senators but that’s a record of it’s own too because it took extra innings for him to accomplish that feat.
Cheney pitched the entire 16 innings of that game against the Baltimore Orioles. Reportedly he had just 13 strikeouts through the ninth inning so you can see why it isn’t given the same prestige as what Scherzer accomplished Wednesday night.
Cheney made his MLB debut for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1957. Prior to the 1960, after posting a career 6.10 ERA with the Cardinals, Cheney was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates along with Gino Cimoli for Ron Kline. Pittsburgh traded Cheney to the Washington Senators on June 29, 1961 for Tom Sturdivant.
He struggled with his command during the 1961 season posting a 10.01 ERA, so it did not seem that he would be the likeliest candidate to strikeout 21 batters the following season, but he did.
From 1962 through the end of his career in 1966 he made 51 appearances for the Senators, making 14 starts (seven of which were complete game shutouts!) and posting a 3.09 ERA. Despite the few years he struggled Cheney finished his career with a 3.77 ERA.
It’s interesting that both Scherzer and Cheney both played for a team in Washington, D.C. when they threw their 20+ strikeout games. Scherzer’s was even more interesting as it was against his former team, the Tigers and he was facing off with former Nationals’ teammate Jordan Zimmermann.
Another interesting statistic surrounding 20 strikeout games is this current Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus played for the Tigers when Clemens pitched his second career 20 strikeout game in 1996, he played for the Astros two years later when Kerry Wood threw his 20 strikeout game.
Then on Wednesday he managed the Tiger’s as they struck out 20 times against Scherzer. He was not involved in Clemen’s first career 20 strikeout game in 1986, but still his presence at three of the four games that are considered to be “official 20 strikeout games” by MLB, is truly an odd coincidence.
Regardless of how these games and pitchers were classified by Major League Baseball in the record books, one thing is for sure and that is strikeouts are definitely SEXY! 🙂