06/13/2003 10:43 PM ET
Rocket reaches 4,000-K milestone
Only third pitcher to reach lofty plateau
The strikeout: 56K | 300K
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
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NEW YORK -- Roger Clemens made the wait well worth it. Three aborted shots at his 300th win merely allowed The Rocket to scale two mountains on the same magical Bronx evening.
And he planted both flags Friday night, earning his 4,000th strikeout a couple of hours before celebrating a 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, the 300th of his career.
Compared to the mini-series drama over his quest to become the 21st man with 300 wins, The Rocket took only a New York minute to become only the third to scale 4,000 strikeouts.
Needing four entering Friday night's Interleague game in Yankee Stadium against the Cards, Clemens struck out the side in the first inning, then rang up Edgar Renteria with a 3-and-2 fastball for the first out of the second to join Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton in one of baseball's most exclusive clubs.
Siss-boom-bah! Clemens mowed down Miguel Cairo, J.D. Drew and Albert Pujols to open the game and draw within three strikes of the magic number.
And Roger kept mowing, ending his 6 2/3-inning stint with 10 strikeouts, his second double-figure strikeout game of the season and the 104th of his career.
With a late Raul Mondesi two-run homer providing welcome cushion and the Yankees bullpen providing the last seven outs, Clemens celebrated an unprecedented double.
Funny how less attention had been paid to the larger of the two round numbers he'd chased. Maybe because since April 2001 Clemens has already held the all-time American League record for strikeouts, and once you're No. 1, it's all icing.
But for Clemens to notch his 4,000th strikeout in his 300th win becomes the stuff of future legends.
At the 4,000-strikeout plateau, Clemens ranks in the middle of the select trio. A little behind the god of pitching, Ryan, but a little ahead of the more mortal Carlton.
At 40 years, 10 months and nine days, Clemens turned 4,000 behind Ryan (38-5-11) but ahead of Carlton (41-7-14).
Similarly, the Rocket chalked up the Big K in his 4,160 1/3 innings.
Ryan was working his 3,844th inning on April 27, 1983 when he rang up the Mets' Danny Heep for strikeout No. 4,000.
Carlton had 4,990 2/3 innings in the bank when he turned the Reds' Eric Davis into his 4,000th victim on August 5, 1986 -- interestingly, the day after Clemens celebrated his 24th birthday.
The Express reached 4,000 strikeouts five years before reaching 300 wins.
Lefty put up his 4,000th K three years after becoming a 300-game winner.
We can continue debating whether anyone else will ever pitch long enough to win 300 or throw hard enough to strike out 4,000. But we can state with reasonable certainty that no one again will accomplish both.
Ironically, Clemens would not be alone in reaching the 4,000-strikeout circle this season were it not for Randy Johnson's bum knee. The Big Unit entered the season shy by only 254 (about a hundred less than his average for the last four years) but a disabling injury still has him stuck on 3,777. However, with 225 wins, Johnson may find the other target out of reach.
And no one else is close (Greg Maddux is third among active pitchers with 2,691). Nor are there any near-misses on the history chart; Bert Blyleven came closest, and even after 22 seasons he finished 299 short.
So how perfect is it for The Rocket to do both simultaneously? Especially since, as an added note, neither Ryan nor Carlton won their 4,000-strikeout game.
Ryan got a no-decision in Houston's 4-3 win over the Mets while Carlton, by then a journeyman in search of his lost youth, lasted 3 2/3 innings in San Francisco's 11-6 loss to Cincinnati. Two days after the milestone, the Giants released him.
How preposterous for us to even be talking about 4,000 strikeouts, considering the mountain-top had been 3,509 for 56 years, from Walter Johnson's retirement in 1927 until Ryan and Carlton played tag with the record in 1983.
What an amazing summer that was. From the moment Ryan first overtook The Big Train on April 27, he and Carlton took turns with the record, depending on whose turn it was to pitch. That season actually ended with the career mark briefly in Carlton's possession, 3,709 to 3,677.
Carlton pulled into retirement after the 1988 season with 4,136 strikeouts. The Express kept chugging through 1993, ending with a phenomenal total of 5,714.
To put Ryan's record into perspective, imagine Hank Aaron putting up 1,164 home runs. That's how many he would've needed to improve on Babe Ruth's long-standing 714 by the extent to which Ryan blew by Johnson.
Ryan, of course, was matchless, whatever the yardstick.
Longevity? His last strikeout (Anaheim's Greg Myers on September 17, 1993) came 27 years after his first (Atlanta's Pat Jarvis on September 11, 1966).
Impartiality? He'd strike you out no matter who you were, a Hall of Famer (21 of them), a Most Valuable Player (47 of those), a father or a son (rang up five of those sets). For the record, his most popular victims were Claudell Washington (39), Freddie Patek (31) and Jorge Orta (30).
Durability? To get many of his 217 double-figure strikeout games, Ryan went where not even his peers, much less today's pitchers, would consider: into extra innings. Not atypical was a June 14, 1974 outing against the Red Sox in which Ryan went 13 innings to strike out 19 and walk 10.
Wonder what The Express' pitch count was for that little exercise? It had to be a multiple of the 84 pitches Clemens threw before leaving his last start, for whatever reason, with a 1-0 lead in Wrigley Field.
That much-debated development merely held over the drama for another night in the Bronx. As milestone evenings go, this was one of a kind -- for 300 or 4,000 reasons, take your pick.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.