Monday, January 5, 2015

Record-Setting Streaks (Part VIII--Tom Seaver)

Some of baseball's most astonishing records are held by players who are virtually unknown. Other extraordinary accomplishments can be traced to prominent sources. In April of 1970, the illustrious Tom Seaver struck out 19 batters in a game, tying a record (since broken) set by fellow Hall of Famer Steve Carlton the year before. Not to be outdone, "Tom Terrific" collected ten of those strikeouts consecutively--a feat that has stood the test of time.

After lending the woeful Mets some credibility with his remarkable rookie performance in '67, Seaver led baseball's loveable losers to an improbable world championship in '69. During his storied career, he captured three Cy Young awards and ended up on twelve All-Star teams.  Perhaps Reggie Jackson said it best when he remarked of the five-time NL strikeout leader: "Blind people come to the park just to listen to him pitch."

Seaver once asserted that it wasn't his job to strike people out. But he did it with remarkable proficiency--especially on April 22, 1970, when he punched out every San Diego batter he faced from the end of the sixth inning on. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out every player who came to the plate at least once with the exception of shortstop Jose Arcia (a lifetime .215 hitter who averaged one "K" per every 5.7 at-bats). Umpire Harry Wendelstedt told reporters after the game: "Seaver had a helluva fastball and it was moving two different ways--it was spinning in and zipping out. He moved the ball around and changed speeds well. But at the very end, he was really bringing it." A second inning homer was all the scoring Seaver allowed in a 2-hit victory. He later said that the only strikeouts he actually tried for that day were the tenth and the nineteenth.

Up until 2012, Seaver's consecutive strikeout record had not been seriously challenged in the majors since the Deadball Era. Back in 1884, when the mound was only fifty feet from home plate and six "called balls" were required to draw a walk, Hall of Famer "Smiling Mickey" Welch struck out the first 9 hitters he faced in an August 28 game against the Cleveland Blues. That mark was tied by Doug Fister of the Tigers in September of 2012. Fister had no idea he had set an AL record at the time. "Coming into today, it was just like any other day," he commented afterward. "My focus was just to get early contact."

To date, six men have struck out 8 consecutive batters, including Nolan Ryan, who did it twice. The only other high profile player on that list is Roger Clemens, who mowed down eight straight opponents with the Red Sox in 1986. In 2014, Seaver's record of ten successive "K's" was tied at the low minor league level by A's prospect Mark Lamb.      



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