On Wednesday night, Nationals starter Max Scherzer added to his already impressive resume by joining one of MLB's most elite groups: the 20-strikeout club. He did so thanks to pitches like this:
As a result, Scherzer joined Kerry Wood and Roger Clemens on that oh-so-exclusive list of pitchers to accomplish this feat in a nine-inning game. Randy Johnson also tallied 20 punchouts in nine innings, but we'll get to that in a bit.
Since racking up 20 strikeouts in a single contest happens less frequently than a perfect game, here's a look at each of them … but be warned, you're about to bear witness to some absolutely filthy pitching.
April 29, 1986: Clemens downs 20 Mariners
Clemens' first 20-strikeout performance just celebrated its 30th anniversary. The 23-year-old, just coming off right shoulder surgery, defied critics as he blew away the Mariners with little opposition en route to Boston's 3-1 victory at Fenway Park.
According to Boston.com, Clemens needed 138 pitches to make it through the game, with 97 of them strikes. His only blemish was a solo home run off the bat of Gorman Thomas in the seventh inning, and the whole game wrapped up in a tidy two hours and 39 minutes.
September 18, 1996: Clemens whiffs 20 Tigers
Clemens was the only member of the 20-strikeout club for a decade - until he became the only member of the TWO 20-strikeout club in one of the final few starts of his Red Sox tenure.
Traversing through a Detroit lineup featuring (among others) Ruben Sierra (two strikeouts), Tony Clark (three), Travis Fryman (four) and current Tigers manager Brad Ausmus (one strikeout, one hit), Clemens threw 101 of his 151 pitches for strikes in Boston's 4-0 win.
May 6, 1998: Wood masters 20 Astros
At just 20 years of age, Wood permanently etched his name in history during an afternoon at Wrigley Field. His victims were the Astros - and specifically the "Killer B" Astros, Craig Biggio (one strikeout), Derek Bell (two) and Jeff Bagwell (three).
On the day, Wood struck out the side four times, which is just absurd. His pitch count was decidedly less extreme than those of Clemens' previous 20-strikeout games, as Wood needed 122 (84 of them strikes) to get the job done and throw ridiculous pitches like this one, which ended the game:
Oh, and the game took just two hours and 16 minutes.
May 8, 2000: Big Unit K's 20 Reds (but there's a catch)
Randy Johnson may have struck out 20 Reds in nine innings on this date, but his does get an asterisk as that game went into extra innings, whereas the others were completed in nine-inning contests.
That's not to take away from Johnson's otherworldly game, though. It was straight-up nastiness.
May 11, 2016: Mad Max tames the Tigers
Scherzer's feat, the fourth and latest addition to the 20-strikeout club, was simply masterful. Scherzer needed just 119 pitches - the fewest of the 20-strikeout games to date, mind you - to further raise his profile even higher than it already was in two hours and 38 minutes.
And these Tigers are a formidable bunch, what with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez in the middle of the lineup. V-Mart, to his credit, was the only Tigers starter to not fall victim to Scherzer's sensational night as he didn't strike out on the evening. It must be pointed out, too, that Ausmus again found himself on the wrong end of one of these pitching performances. If it wasn't for bad luck ...
In all, it was a close 3-2 Nats victory that almost became too close for comfort in the ninth after J.D. Martinez opened the frame with a home run to center. Scherzer, though, didn't let that shake him even as his pitch count continued to climb and he picked up his 20th and final strikeout at the expense of Justin Upton:
Four games spread across 30 years, four sterling performances by three pitchers that definitely know their way around a mound. It's pitching, just done better than most everyone else can manage. That deserves a celebratory glove toss, if you ask us.