Max Scherzer struck out 20 batters on Wednesday, and it was ridiculous. His stuff was moving all over the place, and the Tigers' were outmatched the entire night. Even Miguel Cabrera struck out three times, so you know Scherzer was on.
Here's the thing, though: Scherzer only tied the record. Yeah, yeah, "only" tied the record. Obviously, Scherzer's 20 strikeouts is an amazing accomplishment, but for Red Sox fans, it's mostly a reminder of the greatness of Roger Clemens.
Clemens was the first pitcher to strike out 20 batters in a game, back in 1986. He was also the second pitcher to do so, when he repeated the feat in 1996. Since then, Kerry Wood and Scherzer have done it, and so did Randy Johnson, even if it's not officially recognized as such since his game went into extra innings. (This is the weakest excuse, of course, since Johnson got his 20 strikeouts before extras began.)
Thanks to the wonderful age we live in, you can watch both of Clemens' 20-strikeout performances in full. Appreciate them, too, because Scherzer's 20 is an amazing accomplishment today, but think about the difference between today's game and even the game in 1996, never mind '86. The league-average strikeout rate for a starting pitcher in 1986 was 5.7 per nine: in 2016, it's 7.8 per nine, more than two whole strikeouts more.
Man, Clemens was just stupid good at that whole pitching thing. And before you get all cynical about that, remember: it wasn't until after Clemens left the Sox that all the alleged PED use began, so these two instances of one record are as clean as anything baseball has produced. Which, you know, could be taken in a lot of ways, but let's just enjoy this trip through history since Scherzer has reminded us of it.
Here's 1986, against the Mariners on April 29...
...and here's Clemens doing it again against the Tigers on September 18, 1996, in his third-to-last start with the Red Sox.
Are you pressed for time? Don't worry, MLB.com has condensed versions of both games, so you can see all 40 strikeouts in under 10 minutes.
And here's '96:
Pedro Martinez makes it pretty easy to forget, but man, Roger Clemens was awesome.