Striking out 17 batters in eight innings Friday night against the Atlanta Braves was an extraordinary showing by Detroit Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez. Not generally known as a strikeout whiz, Sanchez put up one eye-popping number there. And that was without throwing a complete game.
If Sanchez lived at any other time in the history of baseball, there’s no way he would have been lifted by manager Jim Leyland without a chance to pitch the ninth and hurl a complete game in the 10-0 victory. Although there were certainly no guarantees that Sanchez would strike out all three batters in the ninth to tie the Major League record it’s kind of annoying that he wasn’t given a shot at trying or just finishing out a five-hit shutout.
Not that Sanchez cared, either. Starters these days have no commitment to complete games so he was indifferent that he was taken out because of a pitch count of 121. With that lead it wasn’t as if he was going to blow the game.
Sitting in the stands watching a game like that unfold where you are not tallying the number of strikeouts, but only forming a general impression, it doesn’t take long to start thinking that everyone is striking out. A couple of guys each inning here and a couple of guys each inning there, and pretty soon it kind of dawns on you that a whole bunch of Ks are going into the scorebook.
When a starting pitcher is so dominant he is just punching out every batter it’s a treat for the fans. Sanchez,3-1 on the season, was money Friday night. The right-hander set a Tiger team record for strikeouts in a game, eclipsing Mickey Lolich by one. He also became a rare pitcher to strike out so many hitters in eight innings–Randy Johnson once struck out 18 in eight innings.
It is a nine-inning game, however, and the context of a full game is how records are usually viewed. Through the course of history there have been three 20-strikeout games in nine innings. Two were authored by Roger Clemens and one by Kerry Wood.
There should be an asterisk in there for an additional game, though. In 2001, while pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Randy Johnson struck out 20 men in nine innings, but it wasn’t a complete game. The game went on for two more innings. Don’t know why that should matter, but apparently Major League baseball does, because it is listed separately.
Ben Sheets, Clemens, Johnson, Ryan, Ramon Marinez, Bill Gullickson, Ron Guidry, Don Wilson, Sandy Koufax (twice), Bob Feller, and two 1880s guys, Henry Porter and Dupee Shaw, all struck out 18 in a nine-inning game.
That’s the list of all of the pitchers in baseball history who bettered Sanchez’s effort in a regular, nine-inning game. It’s a pretty short list and one thing to chew on is that a spectator attending the game at Comerica Park had a better chance of seeing a no-hitter than a pitcher fan 17 batters in eight innings.
It should be noted also that throughout history, when no one cared about pitch counts, but only how a guy was actually doing on the mound, that a certain number of times high strikeout totals were registered in extra innings.
The all-time, single-game Major League record for strikeouts in a game including extra innings was posted by the Washington Senators’ Tom Cheney in 1962 when he struck out 21 while pitching 16 innings.
Luis Tiant and Nolan Ryan (three times) struck out 19 in an extra-inning game.
Too late to squeeze out that one more inning from Sanchez, but he was looking pretty good Friday, both in the context of the sport’s history, and the company he joined, so it would have been special to see how many more Ks he might have picked off in the ninth.