When Felix Hernandez struck out four Twins batters in the eighth inning on Thursday night — Joe Mauer reached first safely when his swinging strike three eluded catcher Rob Johnson, a wild pitch — it wasn’t just the third time in Mariners’ history that has happened.
More impressively, it was just the 22nd time in American League history that feat has occurred. Four strikeouts in one inning has happened 30 times in the National League, according to this list on Baseball Almanac.
The last previous American Leaguer to do so: the Angels’ Scot Shields on June 21, 2008. The last Mariner: Kazu Sasaki on April 4, 2003, against Texas (Carl Everett struck out and reached first on a wild pitch). The last National Leaguer: the Dodgers’ Brad Penny on Sept. 23, 2006.
Another Mariner, Matt Young, turned the four-strikeout trick on Sept. 9, 1990, against Boston. Ken Griffey Jr. played in that game for Seattle; so did Ken Griffey Sr. It was future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs who reached first on his strikeout after a passed ball by Dave Valle.
Not surprisingly, at least three knuckleballers are on the list: Tim Wakefield, Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough. Walter Johnson, Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson all did it. And Chuck Finley did it three times. I’d guess Finley’s ball had a lot of movement, as did Mike Scott, also on the list and one of the masters of the split-fingered fastball. With a little help from a scuffing agent, if you ask his contemporaries.
I’m waiting for a pitcher to have a five-strikeout inning. With Felix’s stuff and movement, and the propensity of his primary catcher, Rob Johnson, to let balls get by him, he’s as good a candidate as anyone.
Update 11:40 a.m. Friday: Looking more closely at the Baseball Almanac list, I see that Felix joined an even more exclusive club, becoming just the 9th American Leaguer, and 18th pitcher overall, to get those four strikeouts consecutively.
Earlier this week, Brandon League accomplished another rare feat. Sort of. On Monday, also against the Twins, League entered the game in the ninth inning with no outs and runners on first and third, courtesy of two Minnesota hits off Ryan Rowland-Smith.
After coming in from the bullpen, League’s first pitch was grounded by Michael Cuddyer to third baseman Jose Lopez, who threw out Justin Morneau trying to score from third. His second pitch, to Jason Kubel, was again grounded to Lopez, who threw out Cuddyer at second. And League’s third pitch, to Delmon Young, was grounded yet again to Lopez, who threw out Young at first.
To review: That was three pitches, and three outs, by League.
I counted 71 instances of three-pitch innings in the AL, 92 in the NL. There have been 266 no-hitters in baseball history, so assuming that there’s not a slew of unrecorded three-pitch innings, it’s a rarer feat than a no-hitter.
You’ve probably figured out the catch: Since League didn’t start the inning, he’s not an official member of the Three-Pitch Club. Yet it’s still a nice accomplishment.
Perusing the list, you’ll find Tim Wakefield again, and also Walter Johnson — four times! Carlos Silva did it, and so did Jimmy Gobble. Phil Niekro never had a three-pitch inning, but his brother Joe did. It’s an equal-opportunity list, featuring the likes of Christy Mathewson, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Mariano Rivera as well as John Parrish, Jay Witasick, and Aaron Small. The only two Mariners to do so from the start of the inning: Bob Wolcott and the esteemed Butch Henry. You’d probably be not at all shocked to find Jamie Moyer on the three-pitch list. What’s more impressive is that he did it this year, at age 47, on May 7 against Atlanta.
It’s mulling over feats like this, by the way, that makes baseball so much fun. And don’t even get me started on guys who have struck out the side on nine pitches. Last to do so: Ross Ohlendorf last year. And only three pitchers have done it twice: Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan. That’s one high-class trio. Today’s mystery: How in the world did Buddy Carlyle get on this list?