- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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If you've perused those box scores from Friday night and your head hasn't exploded yet, there's good news. Three Strikes is here to help you digest the amazing stuff that just happened on a baseball field near you!
Strike One -- K's on the Cobb
We can end the competition for Box Score Line of the Year right now. Let's just hand it to Alex Cobb, who spun off this line for the ages in the Rays' 6-3 win over San Diego on Friday:
4 2/3 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 13 K, 1 WP, 1 HBP, 1 balk
Want to attempt to digest that? Great. Let's do it.
• 13 strikeouts, 14 outs? The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that's never been done, in any other game ever played. And there's a good reason for that: It's almost impossible. The fewest innings anyone had ever pitched before this in a 13-strikeout game was five, by Zack Greinke this past Sept. 25.
• Of course, to be technical, Cobb did get two outs that weren't whiffs, given that one of his strikeout victims reached base on a wild pitch -- as part of one of the craziest innings in baseball history. Ready for the wacky details?
The third inning of this game went: Strikeout/wild pitch, steal of second, strikeout, steal of third, strikeout, run-scoring balk, strikeout.
Got that? According to Elias, it was the first inning ever played in the history of baseball in which a pitcher struck out every hitter he faced – and still gave up a run. Try that on your Xbox 360 some time.
• But wait. Let's think this through another way. As a bunch of our loyal tweeters put it, this guy just had an inning with no hits, no walks, no hit batters and four strikeouts – and he still gave up an earned run!
I asked Retrosheet founder Dave Smith to run that feat through his hard drive Saturday. His verdict, after checking every game since 1951: No pitcher in the Retrosheet files had ever pulled that off. The only other four-strikeout innings that produced an earned run all featured at least one hit.
• One more insane twist to this game: The Rays had had their starting pitcher go at least five innings in every game this season -- until this one. It's the second-longest streak to start a season in the 97 seasons for which those records are available. Then Alex Cobb broke that streak -- but set Tampa Bay's season high for strikeouts in a game -- on the same night. Hard to do, friends.
• Another amazing part of this game: Cobb threw 77 strikes (out of 117 pitches) and didn't even make it through the fifth inning. According to baseball-reference.com's fabulous Play Index, only one pitcher in the pitch-count era ever threw more strikes in any game without going five innings: Mark Gardner (81, in 4 2/3 IP and 122 pitches) on Aug. 18, 1996.
One huge difference between Gardner and Cobb, however: Gardner had 23 of those 81 strikes put in play. Cobb allowed only seven fair balls -- and still didn't get through the fifth.
• Cobb had nine strikeouts through three innings and 11 strikeouts through four. As SABR research genius Trent McCotter reports, both are record-tying feats.
Last AL pitcher to strike out nine in the first three innings: Ron Guidry, on May 10, 1986.
The only other AL pitchers known to have struck out 11 in the first four innings: Greinke in that September game and Nolan Ryan on April 8, 1978.
• Finally, I thought this list would be fun: Fewest outs in a game of X strikeouts:
- Fewest outs in a game of 16 K's -- 20 (Randy Johnson, Sept. 27, 2001)
Fewest outs in a game of 15 K's -- 21 (last by Max Scherzer, May 20, 2012)
Fewest outs in a game of 14 K's -- 17 (Max Scherzer, May 30, 2010)
Fewest outs in a game of 13 K's -- 14 (Alex Cobb)
Fewest outs in a game of 11 K's -- 16 (Cole Hamels, July 24, 2006, & J.R. Richard, June 9, 1978)
Fewest outs in a game of 10 K's -- 13 (Bill Caudill, Aug. 17, 1979 & Norm Charlton, Sept. 14, 1989)
Fewest outs in a game of 9 K's -- 10 (Roy Halladay April 3, 2013)
Strike Two -- Near-Perfecto Night in America
Dazzling Cardinals rookie Shelby Miller didn't quite pitch a perfect game Friday night – but he did something that's even more rare:
He allowed a hit (a broken-bat hit, as a matter of fact) to the first hitter of the night -- then chewed through the final 27 hitters he faced.
So how about this: There have been 23 perfect games pitched in baseball history. But as loyal research whiz Trent McCotter reports, this was only the ninth known game in which a pitcher did what Miller did – allow the first batter of the night to reach base and retire the next 27. Here are the other eight:
- Cy Young -- June 30, 1908
Bullet Joe Bush -- Aug. 26, 1916
Curt Simmons -- May 16, 1953
Robin Roberts -- May 13, 1954
Woodie Fryman -- July 1, 1966
Jim Bibby -- May 19, 1981
Jerry Reuss -- June 11, 1982
John Lackey -- July 7, 2006
• Young and Bush pitched no-hitters in which the first hitter reached. So Miller's was just the seventh game in which a leadoff hit stood in the way of a perfect game.
• Along the way, Miller struck out 13 of those final 27 hitters -- the most ever in a game like that. The only other double-figure strikeout games in that group: Lackey and Simmons whiffed 10 apiece.
• But of course, Jon Lester also came within one hit (in the seventh inning) of a perfect game Friday. And that made this the first day in baseball history, according to Elias, in which two pitchers threw complete-game shutouts of nine or more innings, featuring just one hit (or none) and zero walks. Very cool.
• Then again, those 28-batter complete games are rarities in themselves. This was only the third day in the expansion era in which two starters threw nine-inning complete games on the same day and each of them faced no more than one hitter over the minimum. The other two:
How 'bout that group? One set of living legends (Bob Gibson/Steve Carlton) -- and Odalis Perez/Shawn Estes. You've gotta love baseball!
• Finally, loyal tweeter Brian P. (@Turbo_Pig) wondered whether Miller is the first pitcher to rip off three starts (since his debut last season), this early in his career, of at least six innings and no more than one hit allowed. Here's what we found:
Miller is the only pitcher in the 97-season Play Index era to have three starts like that in the first 13 games of his career (just eight of them starts). But we found seven pitchers who have had two games like that. And it's quite a list:
Strike Three -- In Other News
• You've gotta love Jose Altuve. He's 5-foot-5 – and he has batted third for the Astros in four games in a row. He's the first player whose listed height was that minimal to spend four straight games in the prestigious No. 3 hole since another 5-5 dynamo, Albie Pearson, did it for those 1958 Washington Senators on Sept. 9-10-11-12.
• Craig Kimbrel did something Tuesday that has happened in only one other game in history: He struck out the first two hitters in the ninth -- then gave up game-tying and game-winning home runs to the next two!
The only other game like it, according to the Sultan of Swat Stats, SABR home run historian David Vincent: May 22, 1964 (Twins-Orioles). Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell K'd for the first two outs. Then Sam Bowens and John Orsino hit the game-tying and game-winning homers -- off two different pitchers (Gerry Arrigo, Bill Fischer). Hey, of course, they did!
• Finally, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard joined one of history's coolest groups this week. According to the Sultan, they became the 14th set of teammates to homer in the same game at least 50 times. How about the other names in that club:
Hank Aaron/Eddie Mathews 75
Lou Gehrig/Babe Ruth 73
Willie Mays/Willie McCovey 68
Gil Hodges/Duke Snider 67
Ron Santo/Billy Williams 64
Bob Allison/Harmon Killebrew 61
Dwight Evans/Jim Rice 56
Joe Adcock/Eddie Mathews 56
Yogi Berra/Mickey Mantle 55
Jay Buhner/Ken Griffey 53
Orlando Cepeda/Willie Mays 50