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McCarthy: the single-game strikeout record still means something

By Matt McCarthy, 985TheSportsHub.com

It's no secret that baseball is faced with a strikeout crisis.

Batters are striking out at clips never seen before. 22 percent of plate appearances now end in K's, the highest-mark in the history of Major League Baseball. The strikeout rate has increased for 11 years in a row, and it's hard to envision that trend reversing any time soon.

The K used to mean something. It was a sign of dominance. Now, in many ways, it's only a sign of hitters swinging for the fences and not caring about contact.

The individual strikeout has become almost entirely meaningless. But the single-game strikeout record? That carries more weight than ever before.

With the way pitchers are managed today, 21 strikeouts seems increasingly out of reach.

Despite the absurd number of punch-outs in baseball, no pitcher has surpassed Roger Clemens' mark of 20 strikeouts in a single game set in 1986. 33 years have passed, the game has changed dramatically, and yet that number still stands.

That number still means something.

And it could have been reset by Chris Sale Tuesday night at Fenway Park.

The only thing that stopped Sale's pursuit of 21 K's was his pitch count. He was still dominating and was still strong, but he had thrown 108 pitches. There was no way Sale was going to take the mound after the seventh inning. It's 2019, the pitch count rules all.

It's understandable, but it's still hard not to feel like we missed out on something special as baseball fans.

Seventeen "K" signs are hung up in the eighth inning for Chris Sale's (not pictured) of the Boston Red Sox career high strikeouts against the Colorado Rockies at Fenway Park on May 14, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley /Getty Images)
Seventeen "K" signs are hung up in the eighth inning for Chris Sale's (not pictured) of the Boston Red Sox career high strikeouts against the Colorado Rockies at Fenway Park on May 14, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley /Getty Images)

I get it: you have to preserve Sale for the long haul. If an arm injury sinks his season, the Red Sox season would go down with the ship as well. In the end, the Red Sox don't care one bit about how many strikeouts Sale gets on a cold night in May, they care if he can be strong on a cold night in October.

But I care about history, and I think most baseball fans do too.

In a sport that needs more excitement, we were robbed of a chance to witness something none of us have ever seen. No pitcher in the long history of baseball had ever struck 17 hitters in only seven innings of work. He could have nabbed four more.

Sure, a record is just a record, but records matter more in baseball than any other sport.

This isn't the NFL. Who cares who has thrown for the most touchdowns in a game? Big deal.

This isn't the NBA, either. Does anybody give a damn who has hit the most three-pointers in a game? Who even holds that record? Is it Steph Curry? Ray Allen? How about Reggie Miller?

This is baseball, numbers are everything. Any sports fan worth his or her salt knows the significance of .406. The whole world could tell you that Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak will never be broken. And everybody knows the single-game strikeout record is 20.

The number 20 still means something in baseball. It's too bad that we didn't get a chance to see the number 21 replace it.

You can hear Matt McCarthy on 98.5 The Sports Hub's own Hardcore Baseball podcast and on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.