On three different occasions we've seen individual pitchers strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game. Roger Clemens accomplished it twice during his days with the Boston Red Sox — the first time coming on April 29, 1986 against the Seattle Mariners and then again on Sept. 18, 1996 against the Detroit Tigers. On May 6, 1998, Chicago Cubs rookie right-hander Kerry Wood joined that very elite company when he fanned 20 Houston Astros.
Those performances were brilliant and dominant individual performances. However, in the process of making their own history, those pitchers also established a record for team strikeouts in a nine-inning game. Remarkably, no club had ever collectively topped, or even equaled, that many until five Los Angeles Angels pitchers combined to strike out 20 Mariners in a 5-4 victory Tuesday night.
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The historic team effort was led by Zack Greinke, who fanned a season-high 13 of the 24 hitters he faced over five innings. In fact, Greinke's personal strikeout performance was good enough and unique enough to create a little history of its own. According to Elias, it's the first time since 1900 a pitcher has struck out 13 hitters in an outing that lasted five innings or less.
''It was kind of fluky. I was trying to get ahead of guys and it just kind of worked out that way,'' Greinke said. ''I was just throwing strikes, and I had 27 pitches in the first inning because there were long at-bats. So there was really nothing I could do about it."
Personally, I wouldn't call the overall performance fluky, although there was a little craziness involved that helped make both pieces of history possible. In the fourth, Greinke became the 65th pitcher on record — oddly, the third in the last five days — to strike out four batters in a single inning.
It started with Greinke striking out John Jaso looking. After a solo home run to Justin Smoak, a swinging strikeout of Eric Thames followed. Miguel Olivo doubled, and Greinke got Trayvon Robinson to swing for strike three on a pitch in the dirt that skipped away from catcher Chris Iannetta — which allowed Robinson to reach first base to extend the inning. But it would not prove costly as Greinke rebounded to get Brendan Ryan swinging for the third out.
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The extra strikeout put Greinke at 11 through four innings. He'd get two more in the fifth before exiting with 110 pitches, which could be considered a downside to a high strikeout performance, but manager Mike Scioscia was just happy to see Greinke throwing strikes and getting outs.
"Zack has the kind of stuff where he can strike out a lot of guys on any given day,'' Scioscia said. ''Those other games where he was into about 109-110 pitches, he was working hard to get there. And tonight he bounced back very well. I don't know if I've ever seen a guy throw so many pitches in five innings and be so successful. Usually when you do that, you're having a tough night. But he struck out 13 guys and had only one run on the board.''
Greinke gave way to a bullpen crew that had helped flip his two recent excellent eight-inning outings into no-decisions and losses. Not this time. Garrett Richards struck out the side in the sixth. Scott Downs, the lone Angel without a strikeout, along with Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri, who each fanned two, kept the Mariners off base enough to secure Greinke's win and also reach the record-tying strikeout total.
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