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This Week in Baseball History: May 7 – 13

2,000 RBI, 20 Ks, and (almost) 20 pitches.

May 8, 2001 – Randy Johnson Ks 20

 

20 strikeouts, 1 game. One of baseball’s toughest pitching feats. You only have so many opportunities, seeing as there are just 27 outs in a nine-inning contest. But then again … you can get four strikeouts in one inning … quite a lot of people have done it.

But there have just been five games where a pitcher struck out 20 batters in nine innings. Tom Cheney got 21 in 16 innings … so that doesn’t quite count. Fun fact: Cheney had just 345 career Ks in 466 IP, so he got 6% of his career total in that one game.

You may see Randy Johnson’s name left off some 20 K lists, because he did it in one game that went extra innings. But Johnson only pitched nine of them. So technically, he is part of the club, he just didn’t pitch a complete game.

This happened May 8, 2001. Johnson was fresh off his third career Cy Young — second in a row He would win another two in the next two seasons. In other words, Johnson was in peak form — a strikeout machine with no limit. His opponent, the Reds, were a bottom-10 offense with the third-highest K% that season. If you crunch the numbers, the math says Johnson was about to destroy.

I have nothing more to say, just watch this maestro paint his masterpiece:

 

Thankfully, the Diamondbacks won with Matt Williams‘ walk-off walk to cap a three-run rally in the bottom of the 11th. Johnson walked away with the no decision.

Why didn’t Johnson keep going? Unfortunately, he was already at 124 pitches. And in his own words, he “saw no point in going out there for the 10th inning.”

Well, you could’ve made some more history, that would’ve been cool …

 

May 9, 2019 – Albert Pujols‘ 2,000th RBI

 

Albert Pujols is already in many exclusive clubs. 3,000 hits, 600 homers, 3 MVPs, multiple WS wins, but he is a part of one club that’s among the most exclusive in all on baseball.

2,000 RBI.

Major League Baseball says there are just four hitters who have done that — Pujols, Hank Aaron (2,297), Babe Ruth (2,214) and Alex Rodriguez (2,086). Barry Bonds and Lou Gehrig were just four and five RBIs short, respectively. Some sources also list Cap Anson in the 2K RBI Club when you count his years in the National Association — which preceded the National League. When you think about it, that’s a remarkable accomplishment for Anson. He joined the 2,000 RBI club in 1896. The next member to join was Aaron almost 76 years later

Pujols is the most recent member of this club. And he joined in style.

In his first six games of 2019, Pujols plated zero runs. But then he went on an excellent stretch, racking up 17 RBI in the next 24 games. He quickly went cold again, netting no RBIs in his next three games.

Enter: May 9 vs. Detroit.

Tigers pitching wasn’t that good in 2019. In fact, they had the third-worst staff ERA (5.26). The Angels took advantage quickly … and repeatedly.

They scored two runs in the first and another two in the second. When Pujols stepped up to the plate in the third, the Angels already had an 88% win probability. Pujols bumped it up another four percent with his history-making blast.

 

Who else could realistically join this club? Miguel Cabrera is still about 200 RBI away. The only other active players with 1,000 RBI are all in the downswing of their careers: Robinson Cano (1,305), Nelson Cruz (1,252), Evan Longoria (1,089), Joey Votto (1,068), Yadier Molina (1,000) and Justin Upton (1,000).

We may not see another person join this club for a long, long, long time.

 

May 11, 2016 – Max Scherzer Also Ks 20

 

Nearly 15 years to the day after Johnson’s pitching masterclass, Max Scherzer painted a masterpiece of his own.

His opponent? A stout Tigers offense with the third-highest wRC+ (106) in the league thanks to prime Miguel CabreraJ.D. MartinezIan Kinsler, Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos. That’s a lineup composed of big boppers.

But Max is … well, quite mad. And he is going to attack any hitter with 110% intensity.

The first batter in this May 11 showdown was Kinsler — he popped out to third base. After that, Scherzer’s next nine outs were all strikeouts. He did let up a homer to arguably the weakest hitter on the team (Jose Iglesias). But nonetheless, Max was in control.

Here is each strikeout from Max’s magnum opus:

 

Pitchers like Scherzer and Johnson, who can carve out 120-pitch starts like nothing, are a dying breed. And just like Johnson, Scherzer will soon find himself on a plaque in Cooperstown.

 

May 12, 2004 – Alex Cora’s Never-Ending AB

 

Speaking of long, long, long things. How about this at-bat from Alex Cora?

The honor of longest at-bat ever goes to Brandon Belt with his 21-pitch grind against Jaime Barria. But that one had an unfulfilling ending for Belt.

Cora’s AB happened in 2004 — and it’s tied for the fifth longest on record. And it’s also the only one in which the hitter came out on top.

Cora’s opponent: Matt Clement, a 29-year-old starter.

It starts off innocuously enough, with Vin Scully wondering if they will have Cora bunting. But 18 pitches later, and Cora has done the complete opposite.

 

“That’s one of the finest at-bats I’ve ever seen,” Scully said.

Quite right, Vin.

 

Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

Alex Kleinman

Journalist who loves the Yankees and the Bears. One gives me strength, the other leads me to existential dread. When I'm not obsessing over baseball, you can find me at a concert, hiking in a National Park or chasing my dog, Frankie, who has probably stolen one of my socks.

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