Max Scherzer tied the Major League Baseball strikeout record for a nine-inning game by fanning 20 batters Wednesday night.
He needed every last K in a tight 3-2 win over his former team, the Detroit Tigers, who made things interesting through a J.D. Martinez long ball in the ninth.
The Washington Nationals righty struck out five Tigers–Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, James McCann, and Anthony Gose–three times. Perhaps more remarkably, Victor Martinez went three-for-four with no strikeouts against Scherzer.
Scherzer fanned three in the second, third, and eighth.
The three-time All Star enjoyed a good opportunity to set the record with two outs in the ninth. McCann, one of the quintet to whiff three times, instead put the ball into play, grounding out to third. Scherzer threw 119 pitches for the complete-game win.
The performance adds to two no-hitters last season and a 2013 AL Cy Young Award that help make a resume ready for Cooperstown should Scherzer continue at a similar pace for the next decade or so. He boasts a 4-2 record with a 4.15 ERA this season.
The achievement comes 30 years after Roger Clemens broke the record of 19 shared by five pitchers by striking out 20 Seattle Mariners on April 29, 1986. Clemens repeated the feat a decade later against the Tigers. Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson also joined the 20 strikeout club, but the latter did so in a game that went into extra innings (the Big Unit fanned the batters before the extra frames began).
Washington Senators pitcher Tom Cheney struck out 21 batters in a game in which he pitched 16 innings in 1961. His threw 228 pitches and blew out his elbow two seasons later. “Back in those days,” the late righty later reflected, “you finished what you started.”
Scherzer gets the chance to break that record set by a fellow D.C. pitcher on Tuesday in New York against the Mets.