Michael Pineda was absolutely dominant on Sunday afternoon against the Orioles, notching 16 “strike ‘em outs” in just seven innings while the Yankees won 6-2, securing a four-game series victory over the defending AL East champs. It was the type of strikeout performance not witnessed in a generation by Yankees fans, as it had been almost 15 years since there was even a 15-strikeout game, Roger Clemens’s legendary one-hit shutout in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS in Seattle.
Of course, “Big Mike” did the Rocket one better, tying a franchise record for strikeouts by a righthanded pitcher. Not even a loaded Baltimore lineup that led the majors in slugging percentage entering today with a .446 mark had much hope against this slider:
It’s too bad that Pineda’s pitch count was high and that given his injury history, it would have been difficult justifying leaving him in. A mere six men since 1900 have matched 16 strikeouts in a maximum seven innings of work. He was only two away from the franchise record and (no pun intended) within striking distance of the major league mark of 20. As it stands, he joined a prestigious club anyway, as only three other Yankees have ever fanned 16 men in a game, and all three were borderline Hall of Famers.
David Cone: June 23, 1997 vs. Tigers (16)
For some reason, I get the impression that most fans who didn’t grow up watching much Cone, save for the end of his career, have this image in their mind of him as a wily veteran scraping along by throwing pretty much everything and the kitchen sink at hitters. However, that’s not fair to Coney’s true talent, as while he was a smart pitcher, he also had electric stuff on the mound, as was most apparent during his famous 1999 perfect game:
Cone struck out 10 Expos during his perfecto, but two years before, he had an even bigger strikeout performance in Detroit. This was the righty record that Pineda tied on Sunday, as Cone struck out 16 Tigers over eight innings that night, utilizing what writer John Giannone called the next day “a vicious splitter, an overwhelming fastball, and a slick slider.” Tigers manager Buddy Bell said that Cone looked as good as Clemens did the year before when he tied his own record with 20 strikeouts.
The stone-faced starter was in such a zone that he didn’t even realize he had struck out 16 until teammate Andy Pettitte let him know after the eighth. Both Curtis Pride and Travis Fryman str He had thrown 127 pitches and the Yankees had the greatest closer of all time ready to preserve the 5-2 lead, so Cone departed. What’s amazing about Cone is that for most pitchers, this would be a career-best outing, and yet Cone also had the perfect game and a then-NL record 19-strikeout game with the Mets. Giannone had probably the best line when he ended his column with manager Joe Torre’s quote about how “it’s a manager’s day off when David Cone pitches.”
Giannone followed with “As well as the opposition’s.” /drops mic/
David Wells, July 30, 1997 vs. A’s
Another terrific pitcher from the ’90s dynasty known more for his perfect game, “Boomer” was a control artist who simply had everything working on this Wednesday afternoon. In over 10 big league seasons, he had never exceeded even 11 Ks in a game, but he blew past all personal marks and set a career-high with 16 punch-outs of the A’s. Unfortunately like with Cone, there is no readily available footage of that game, but based off his finest pitches from other outings, we can imagine how good his curve looked that day:
Wells had a rubber arm that could probably still produce some pretty curves today if called upon in a pinch. He pitched 21 years in the majors and was still productive at age 44 with a dazzling curveball despite an infamous lifestyle that led to many booze-filled adventures. (Wells still insists that he pitched his perfect game while hung over.)
As Wells dialed up the strikeout total, the Yankee Stadium faithful got into the spirit as well, denoting every K with “crudely drawn beer mugs” and (after they ran out), “flattened plastic cups” affixed to the upper deck facade. Wells of course loved it, remarking “I’ve been in the game a long time, and I’ve never seen anything like that. The fans are creative. They have a good sense of humor. You need that. This is your home crowd. They’re rebels up there. You’ve got to like that… I could have used a beer myself. I was getting pooped out there.”
John Hirschbeck’s big strike zone reportedly helped him out, as eight A’s went down looking during the three-hit, 138-pitch shutout, which combined with the strikeouts gave Wells one of the highest Game Scores in team history, an outstanding 94. Future teammate Scott Brosius struck out twice, and Mark Bellhorn led the way with four strikeouts. Amusingly, Joe Girardi has been involved in all three 16-K games to ever occur for the Yankees, as he caught both of Wells and Cone’s games, and then managed Pineda’s outing. The franchise went 94 years with just one game of at least 16 strikeouts, and then they notched two more within about a month of each other. Sounds about right.
Ron Guidry, June 17, 1978 vs. Angels (18)
Easily the most famous high-strikeout game in Yankees history, the record still belongs to the “Louisiana Lightning man,” as Phil Rizzuto called him. A crowd of 33,162 was in attendance that night in the middle of Guidry’s unbelievable 1978 season, which featured a 1.74 ERA, a 2.16 FIP, a 2.29 DRA, 248 strikeouts, and 9 shutouts. It was one of the best pitching years to ever come from the Yankees, if not the best. This was by far the top performance, even in that fantastic season:
This game has been very well-documented, and MLB Video has multiple features on it with player interviews and footage. The poor Angels had no hope with Guidry’s devastating slider at its peak. That slider had been perfected thanks to his relationship with closer Sparky Lyle, who employed a similar wipeout slider that just disappeared from the strike zone. Lyle himself had learned because while young with the Red Sox, Ted Williams told him it was the one pitch he felt he could never hit.
The Angels could surely relate to Teddy Ballgame on this night, as everyone in their lineup fanned at least once with DH Ike Hampton whiffing three times and right fielder Joe Rudi leading with four strikeouts in four plate appearances. A Yankee Stadium tradition was introduced that night, as any time “Gator” reached two strikes on a hitter, the crowd stood and clapped in eager anticipation of another one. More often than not, Guidry delivered. Like Wells, Guidry threw a crazy pitch count, 138 pitches in a four-hit shutout. Forget the Yankees, no lefthander in AL history had ever struck out 18 batters, a mark that stood until Randy Johnson surpassed him.
Just imagine–Guidry was only two years removed from threatening to leave baseball in frustration to getting sent down again. George Steinbrenner even wanted him back in the minors to start the ’77 season. Thankfully, GM Gabe Paul and manager Billy Martin supported Guidry, so he went north with the team in ’77, had a solid year, and the next season, he went bananas.
Pineda has tremendous company in Yankees strikeout lore now. It was a game for the ages that no Yankees fan who saw it will ever forget.
Photo Credit: Adam Hunger-USA Today Sports