Welcome to the club, Max Scherzer.
It's a small one: Roger Clemens (who did it twice), Kerry Wood, Randy Johnson and, now, Scherzer. The four men who have struck out 20 batters in a major league game in nine innings.
Scherzer was so dominant early on in this game, his fastball moving, the Detroit Tigers swinging through it, that those watching it started thinking about this way too early. He had eight strikeouts through three innings, and it looked like one of those nights when everything clicks for Scherzer. After all, he had two no-hitters last year, striking out 17 in one of those. He had another game in which he allowed one hit and struck out 16.
He had 13 through six innings. It was possible. He was sitting at 77 pitches, not too high of a count. That's the key. Just the other day I speculated why nobody had challenged the 20-strikeout record since Johnson did it in 2001, even though there are more strikeouts than ever. The main reason? Pitch counts. It takes a lot of pitches to strike out 20 batters. In Clemens' second 20-strikeout game, he threw 151 pitches.
But Scherzer was dominant and efficient. Six of those first 13 strikeouts came on three pitches. In the seventh, with two on and one out, he struck out James McCann on three pitches and then got Anthony Gose swinging on a 2-2 changeup. In the eighth, he struck out the side on 13 pitches -- all looking, freezing Ian Kinsler on a 96-mph heater down the middle.
Scherzer knew he was chasing history. "I think it was the eighth inning," he said in his postgame TV interview. "I punched somebody out and they said 18, and I knew I had a chance at 20."
Up stepped Miguel Cabrera, his former teammate with the Tigers. Scherzer talked about the respect he had for Cabrera and the Tigers' lineup. Cabrera fanned on a 97-mph fastball.
Oh, just 97 running up and away from a Hall of Famer on pitch 111 in the 9th. NBD.— Matthew Leach (@MatthewHLeach) May 12, 2016
Victor Martinez singled to left. Dusty Baker left him in. Maybe a new-school manager goes to his closer at that point. After all, there is a game to win. Dusty is old-school, my friends.
Justin Upton fouled off two pitches and then whiffed on a slider as Scherzer tied the record.
lol— Jayson Werth's Beard (@JWerthsBeard) May 12, 2016
Scherzer had a chance to set the record for nine innings. (Tom Cheney of the Washington Senators struck out 21, but in 16 innings.) It was up to McCann, who had seen 10 pitches in fanning three times. McCann had maybe the greatest at-bat of his life, hitting a weak grounder to third base. In his 20-strikeout game, Clemens also had a chance at a 21st strikeout. Scherzer's 33 swings-and-misses were the second most in the past 15 seasons (Clayton Kershaw had 35 in a game last September). He got the Tigers to chase 19 pitches out of the zone. Eleven of the 20 K's came on fastballs, five on sliders and four on changeups.
Not bad for a pitcher who had been struggling with his fastball command and coming off a four-homer game.
So in the last year Scherzer has two no-hitters and a 20K game and he's like the fifth-best pitcher in baseball. What a weird time this is.— Daniel Brim (@DanielBrim) May 12, 2016
After the game, Scherzer said it was all about his fastball. "The fastball really worked for me," he said, pointing out that Stephen Strasburg had said that pitch would work against the Tigers' lineup. And no way was he going to run out of gas in the ninth. "I had everything left in the tank," he said. "When you have something like that going for it, you have all the fans up there, standing on their feet, making a lot of noise, that's all the adrenaline you need."
What a night.
One more fun list to leave you with:
Pitchers with multiple 17+ K games in career:— Kazuto Yamazaki (@Kazuto_Yamazaki) May 12, 2016
Nice company there, Mr. Scherzer.