Baseball fanatics will know that the rarest play in the sport is an unassisted triple play, an occurrence that can only be witnessed when the stars align.
On May 11, Washington Nationals pitcher demonstrated a different kind of rarity.
In a dominant performance over his former team, the Detroit Tigers, Scherzer recorded 20 strikeouts in a complete game victory. The feat ties the 31-year-old righty for the Major League record in a nine-inning game.
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A 20-strikeout game has only been seen five times prior, in the history of the MLB. The all-time record, held by Tom Cheney, stands at 21 strikeouts, but Cheney accomplished that in a 16-inning game. Randy Johnson, Kerry Wood, and Roger Clemens are the only other pitchers who struck out 20 batters in nine innings, with Clemens doing so twice.
The history is impressive, with 20 strikeouts a seemingly improbable outcome in a game that only has 27 outs. It has been over 15 years since the last 20-strikeout game, and the world may very well have to wait just as long for the next one.
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What does this mean for Max Scherzer?
Well, it means Scherzer has established himself as one of the top strikeout artists in the game today, engraving his name in the record books that will be discussed for decades to come. Scherzer becomes the only pitcher currently in the league who has struck out more than 16 batters on two separate occasions, and his 37 double-digit strikeout games, according to MLB.com, is second only to Clayton Kershaw since Scherzer’s debut in 2008.
A more significant individual achievement, however, is the possibility of a Cy Young award nod for Scherzer this season. Despite only 34 games being played by the Nationals, history has shown that silverware tends to follow a 20-strikeout game. According to MLB.com, Clemens earned a Cy Young award and an MVP award the same season as his 20-strikeout game. Randy Johnson took home a Cy Young award for his troubles as well, while Kerry Wood, a rookie with the Chicago Cubs at the time, edged out Todd Helton for Rookie of the Year.
While it is unlikely for Scherzer to follow that legacy at the moment with his 4.01 ERA, he does hold the leader position for the most strikeouts this season thus far.
Ultimately, Scherzer’s performance could be a one-hit wonder, but judging from his track record, it is more likely that it is the start of a phenomenal stretch. Regardless of what follows in the career of Max Scherzer, his performance against the Tigers will be regarded as one of the greatest single-game dominations in the history of the game.