Striking out 300 batters in a season has become a true indicator of just how durable and dominant a pitcher is these days. Its so rare.
That why when Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale struck out 13 Orioles on Wednesday night to become the first AL pitcher in 18 years to reach the 300 mark, it basically sewed up his first AL Cy young Award. The last AL pitcher to fan 300 batters in a season was Bostons Pedro Martinez in 1999, when he set a club record with 313.
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Sale says he didnt know he was closing in on the magical milestone when manager John Farrell, who was well aware, sent him back to the mound for the eighth inning,
I went out there and struck out the last guy and everyone started losing it. I knew I was close, but I didnt know I needed just one more.
Nolan Ryan is the king of 300-K seasons and holds the record for Ks registered by a golden arm in one season with 383 in 1973 and then followed that up with 367 more Ks as the Ryan Express was at the peak of its domination, tossing no-hitters and putting down batters in prolific fashion.
From 1972-1977 Ryan averaged 322 strikeouts per season, he had six seasons in total of 300 or more, which is why he is still the standard as far as strikeout pitchers go. Nobody in the modern history of the sport (after the inclusion of Blacks, Hispanics and Jews) has made guys swing and miss more than Ryan.
Before Ryan hit the scene, the incomparable Sandy Koufax accomplished the feat three-times in a career cut short by injuries with his highest total of 382 strikeouts coming in 1965.
The late ’90s and early 2000’s began to usher in a different pitching approach where relievers became a vital part of the game and starters didnt go as deep into the games as they used too. With this shift, naturally strikeout totals decreased a bit for everyone except Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez.
Johnson is the last true freak of nature as a K-specialist. He struck out 300 batters five times in his illustrious career. Curt Schilling did it three times in back-to-back seasons for the Phillies in 97 and98, and then again in 2002 for the Diamondbacks. The great Pedro Martinez did it twice pre-Y2K. Since then, no pitcher has multiple seasons in which they have recorded 300 Ks.
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Clayton Kershaw had 301 Ks in 2015.
In 2017, Sale escaped the mediocrity of the Chicago White Sox and joined a Boston squad that is going to capture its second straight AL East title. Hes gone neck-and-neck with Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber for the Cy Young award all season. Both teams have World Series dreams and golden arms to lead them there and both pitchers are worthy of the honor.
Being the best is not just having an unbelievable year on a very good team, but being super special every time you take the mound. Chopping down 300 major leaguers in this day and age is nothing to sneeze at and puts the 28-year-old pea slinger in some elite, Hall of Fame company.