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On This Date in Sports April 29, 1986: Clemens 20K

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Roger Clemens of the Boston Red Sox becomes the first pitcher to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game. The 20-strikeout performance breaks the record of 19, which was held by Steve Carlton of the St. Louis Cardinals, Tom Seaver with the New York Mets, and Nolan Ryan of the California Angels. Clemens allows one run on three hits as the Red Sox beat the Seattle Mariners 3-1 at Fenway Park. Roger Clemens would go on to win the Cy Young and MVP in 1986, leading Boston to the American League Pennant. 

Roger Clemens was born on August 4, 1962, in Dayton, Ohio. When he was 15, Clemens and his family moved to Houston, where he began to catch the eye of professional scouts. After attending San Jacinto Junior College in Houston, Roger Clemens turned down a chance to play with the New York Mets, who drafted him in the 12th round of the 1981 MLB Draft, choosing to play baseball at the University of Texas. After helping the Longhorns win the College World Series in 1983, Clemens was drafted by the Boston Red Sox, with the 19th overall pick.  

Roger Clemens made his debut less than a year later but had mediocre numbers in his first two seasons, posting a record of 9-4 in 1984 and 7-5 while dealing with a torn labrum in 1985. After his shoulder troubles, Clemens underwent arthroscopic surgery from James Andrews. He came out like a rocket in 1986, winning his first three starts before taking the mound on the penultimate day in April at Fenway Park. The Red Sox held a record of 9-8 for John McNamara, while the Seattle Mariners came into town with a record of 7-12 for Chuck Cottier. The Mariners countered with Mike Moore, who was 1-1 in the early going of the season. 

Roger Clemens started quickly, striking out the side in the first inning. After Gorman Thomas flied out to left, Clemens struck out the next two batters to end the second inning. In the third inning, Roger Clemens caught Dave Henderson looking. Henderson was a player who Boston would acquire later in the season, playing a big role in their run to Game 7 of the World Series. Threw the first nine batters, Clemens had six strikeouts and was pitching a perfect game. 

Spike Owen, who the Red Sox would acquire with Henderson, led off the fourth with a hit, but Roger Clemens finding his groove struck out the next three batters. This started a string of eight straight batters retired with a K as Clemens began his march to history. Owen would fly out to center to end the sixth inning, also ending Roger Clemens's dominant stretch. Through six innings, Clemens had 14 strikeouts, allowing one hit. Mike Moore was nearly as good, as the game was scoreless heading into the seventh. 

Clemens set down the first two batters with strikes in the seventh inning before Gorman Thomas homered to center field to give Seattle a 1-0 lead. Jim Presley would ground out to end the inning, as the Red Sox, despite Roger Clemens reach 16 Ks, were down during the seventh-inning stretch. Mike Moore retired the first two batters in the seventh before Steve Lyons singled. Following a walk by Glenn Hoffman, the Red Sox took the lead on a three-run home run by Dwight Evans.

Staked to a 3-1 lead, Roger Clemens struck out a pair of Mariners in the eighth inning and stood one strikeout away from tying the record entering the ninth. Spike Owen was the 19th strikeout, going down swinging. The next batter Phil Bradley went down looking for the record, as all of Fenway Park was delirious, handing Ks wherever they could find room. Ken Phelps would end the game on a grounder as Boston won 3-1. 

Roger Clemens posted a record of 24-4, with a 2.48 ERA and 238 strikeouts, winning the AL MVP along with the first of a record seven Cy Young awards. He would duplicate his 20 strikeouts a decade later, since Kerry Wood of the Chicago Cubs, Randy Johnson with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals have joined the 20-K Club.