On Friday night, Cliff Lee struck out 16 Braves hitters in seven innings whle only walking one. He got stuck with the loss thanks to the three runs he allowed, and the goose egg put on the board by Philly’s offense. It got me to thinking. We all know a strikeout is the best possible result for a pitcher, but has there ever been an outing for a pitcher where he struck out a ton of batters, but still got the loss thanks to crappy luck on balls in play? Well yes, it has happened. Including Lee’s game on Friday, it’s happened 15 times in the last 30 years. Strangely, three of the games on the list belong to members of the Phillies: Lee, Curt Schilling in 1997, and Steve Carlton in 1981. In Schilling’s 1997 start, he struck out 15 Pirates whle only walking one in eight innings, allowing three runs. He got the loss when the Phillies offense could only put two on the board. In Carlton’s start, he was less impressive, striking out 15 and walking four in eight innings, and allowing five runs.
Two pitchers appear on this list twice: Schilling, and Randy Johnson. In addition to the 1997 start, Schilling did it in 2003 with the Diamondbacks, striking out 14 without a walk in eight innings, but allowing four runs in eight innings. Johnson’s two games happened in 2001 with Arizona (ironically, one day away from being two years to the day before Schilling’s second game) and 1997 with the Mariners. In the 2001 game, he struck out 16 with two walks, and allowed four runs in seven innings. In the 1997 game, he was dominant: 19 K’s without a walk in a complete game. But, four runs allowed were enough to sink the Mariners, who only scored once.
A couple more random note about these 15 games…
-In all but three of these games, the starter allowed at least one home run. Bobby Witt didn’t in 1986. Pedro Martinez didn’t in 1999 (when Pedro was at the absolute peak of his powers, and couldn’t be stopped), and Cliff Lee didn’t in 2011.
-In all but two of these games, the starter went at least eight innings. Randy Johnson didn’t in 2001, and Cliff Lee didn’t in 2011.
-In all but two of these games, the pitcher’s final game score was at least 65. Steve Carlton’s wasn’t in 1981, and Cliff Lee’s wasn’t in 2011.
Baseball is a funny game sometimes. You can do nearly everything right, as Lee did on Friday, and still get stuck with the loss. Sometimes, more balls that you allow to be put in play turn into hits than outs. And do you know what we call that? Baseball.