Twenty-nine years ago Wednesday, a 23-year-old up-and-coming Red Sox pitcher named Roger Clemens made a leap into legend, striking out 20 Mariners hitters for a record that stands to this day.
In honor of its 29th anniversary, here are 20 facts about the Rocket’s record-setting performance.
– Because it coincided with Game 2 of the Celtics-Hawks Eastern Conference semifinal, just 13,414 people packed Fenway.
– Clemens had yet to come into his own, entering 1986 with a 16-9, 3.88 ERA mark over his first two seasons. What’s more, he was coming off shoulder surgery.
– The game gave Clemens a headstart for most strikeouts in the 1986 season, but he would finish fourth with 238, behind Fernando Valenzuela (242), Mark Langston (245) and Mike Scott (306).
– He would, however, lead the league in wins (24) and win-loss percentage (.857).
– The Mariners put just ten balls in play, with just three ending up hits. Clemens didn’t issue a walk. He threw 138 pitches, 97 for strikes.
– Outfielder Danny Tartabull was the first Mariner not to go down on strikes. He grounded out to start the third.
– Clemens’ perfect game was broken up in the following inning, when Spike Owens hit an 0-2 single.
– Mariners centerfielder Dave Henderson, who struck out three times, was traded to the Red Sox later that year.
– Clemens had Phil Bradley’s number, striking him out four times.
– Just one Mariner got away without a strikeout: pinch hitter Al Cowens flied out in his lone at-bat.
– Teammate Al Nipper tipped Clemens off before the ninth inning that he was one away from tying the record; Clemens claimed not to have known before then.
– Clemens tied his own record a decade later, striking out 20 Tigers on Sept. 18, 1996.
– Two years later, the Cubs’ Kerry Wood would become just the second pitcher to strike out 20 batters in a game. The Diamondbacks’ Randy Johnson would match that record in a nine-inning start in 2001, but the game went to extra innings.
– Despite its setting a record, Clemens’ game doesn’t rank among the top twenty pitching performances of all time, at least as measured by sabrmetrics father Bill James’ Game Score metric.
– While he set the record for total strikeouts, Clemens’ eight strikeouts spanning the fourth through sixth innings ranked him second, with Nolan Ryan and Ron Davis, for most strikeouts in a row. Tom Seaver fanned a record 10 batters in a row in 1970. It was Owens who broke the streak, flying out in the sixth.
– Clemens was in line for the loss as late as the seventh inning — the Mariners were ahead on a Gorman Thomas solo shot until Dwight Evans’ three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh.
– He almost fell one shy of the record: first baseman Don Baylor dropped a foul ball in an at-bat that later ended in a strikeout.
– Clemens told manager John McNamara his legs were starting to cramp after the seventh. But his arm? “Fine,’’ Clemens told him.
– Clemens set the record with room to spare — he hit 20 strikeouts with one batter left.
– Clemens would win his first of seven Cy Young awards that season and his only MVP.