Major League Baseball has been around for more than 130 years, but over all that time, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better left-handed pitcher than this man:
Steve Carlton was one of the best southpaws ever, a first-ballot Hall of Famer who won four Cy Young Awards, made 10 All-Star teams and struck out 4,136 batters in his career, fourth all-time. Today is his 73rd birthday, so it's only fitting to honor "Lefty" by remembering some of his greatest moments.
Carlton began his career with the Cardinals, debuting as just a 20-year-old in 1965. He soon became a regular in the rotation, and thanks to his devastating slider, it didn't take him long to reach the pinnacle of the sport.
In Game 5 of the 1967 World Series -- his Fall Classic debut -- Carlton fired six innings of three-hit ball against the Red Sox, allowing just one unearned run:
Although Carlton was the hard-luck loser in that game, the Cardinals won the Series in seven, earning him his first championship ring.
After an All-Star season in 1971, Carlton was on the move. St. Louis had agreed to a trade with the Phillies, sending Carlton to Philadelphia in exchange for pitcher Rick Wise. It was a move the Cardinals would come to sorely regret, as Carlton became even better in a Phillies uniform, particularly in his first season with the club:
Carlton won his first Cy Young Award that year with a sparkling 1.97 ERA, 2.01 FIP and 310 strikeouts in a league-leading 41 starts. He compiled 346 1/3 innings and an unbelievable 30 complete games. The struggling Phillies only won 59 games that year; remarkably, Carlton won 27 of them.
With Lefty thriving, the dark days of Phillies baseball were thankfully numbered. They would win three NL East titles in a row from 1976-78 before finally overcoming postseason struggles to claim the franchise's first World Series title in 1980.
At the heart of it all was Carlton, who followed up his second NL Cy Young Award with a win in the Game 6 clincher against the Royals:
The next few years were a mixed bag, as the Phillies' dreams of a repeat ended in the 1981 NLDS against the Expos. While the 1982 season brought Carlton his fourth and final Cy Young, the Phillies missed out on the postseason entirely.
In 1983, however, the Phillies won the pennant again, and Carlton reached a big personal milestone. On Sept. 23, he won his 300th game, fittingly against his old team, the Cardinals:
The Phillies fell to the Orioles in the World Series that year, and both Carlton and the team began to fade. His outstanding run in Philadelphia came to an end when he was released on June 24, 1986.
That wasn't quite the end of the road for "Lefty," though -- he had one more milestone to check off, which he reached with the Giants on Aug. 5, 1986:
Eric Davis' whiff made Carlton just the second pitcher, after Nolan Ryan, in MLB history with 4,000 strikeouts. Now that's a truly special lefty.