Pitchers dominate strike zone as rare pitching feats define Wednesday night's action
The Tigers beat the Mariners 2-1 in 14 innings on Wednesday night, but what was significant about the game wasn’t the result. It was the strikeouts. The two teams combined to strikeout 40 times, three shy of the major-league record, and starting pitchers Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer each struck out 12, the first time both starters in a game had struck out a dozen or more batters in a decade. The last time it happened was April 9, 2003, when the Cubs beat the Expos 3-0 with Mark Prior striking out 12 in a 112-pitch shutout and Javier Vazquez striking out 14 in seven innings. Prince Fielder led all batters in the game with five strikeouts in six plate appearances, thus becoming just the third hitter since 1991 to strikeout out four or more times in consecutive games (the others being Ken Caminiti in June 1997 and Danny Espinosa in September of last year).
Hernandez and Scherzer had remarkably similar lines in this game, both allowing just one run in eight innings while striking out 12. Scherzer, who issued the only walk between the two, gave up six hits and threw 75 of 105 pitches for strikes. Hernandez, whose run was unearned, gave up four hits and threw 76 of 106 pitches for strikes. As great as those two were, however, their combined game score of 161 (84 for Felix, 77 for Max) was just the third highest for two starters this season. As recently as Tuesday, Homer Bailey (88) and Kyle Kendrick (75) posted a combined game score of 163 in a game suspended by rain with no score in the middle of the ninth inning and resolved Wednesday afternoon in nine minutes as the Reds scored the winning run off Phillies reliever Phillippe Aumont without making an out.
The top combined game score of the year, however, occurred last Friday, when Cleveland’s Justin Masterson shutout the White Sox and Chicago starter Jose Quintana allowed just one hit and no walks in seven inning while striking out seven. Masterson, who also struck out seven, had a game score of 83. Quintana’s was 82 for a combined 165.
While we’re on the subject of strikeouts, A.J. Burnett retired the first 16 Cardinals he faced Wednesday night and took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, ultimately leaving the game after allowing just one hit and striking out eight. With that, Burnett has struck out eight or more men in all four of his starts this year, making him just the 13th pitcher ever* to strike out eight or more in his first four starts of the season. You might recognize the other names: Pedro Martinez (who did it five times), Nolan Ryan (who did it four times), Randy Johnson (who did it three times), Bob Feller, Bob Gibson, Roger Clemens, Steve Carlton, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Sudden Sam McDowell, Stephen Strasburg, and Rich Harden. Burnett has a way to go before tying the record for eight-plus strikeout games to start a season: Johnson did it in his first 15 starts in 2000, a season in which he struck out 347 batters.
*well, since 1916, which is as far back as the game-by-game data goes, but given how strikeouts have steadily climbed over the game’s history, it seems safe to say “ever” here. On the flip side, Bartolo Colon beat the Astros on Wednesday afternoon while failing to walk a batter for the third time in as many starts this season. That’s not an extremely uncommon feat—in fact, Adam Wainwright also hasn’t walked a batter in three starts this season. But not walking a batter in one’s first four starts has only been done 15 times since 1916, most recently by Strasburg in his first four starts back from Tommy John surgery in September 2011, and not in April since Paul Byrd did it with the Royals in 2002. The record, since 1916, is six walk-free starts, set by Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander in 1923. Wainwright, who also hasn’t allowed a home run this season, and whose last start, a 12-strikeout shutout of the Brewers, resulted in the second-best game score of the season after Yu Darvish’s near-perfect game (Wainwright: 91, Darvish: 96), will start against Cole Hamels and the Phillies in Philadelphia on Thursday evening.