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On This Date in Sports September 12, 1984: Dr. K in the House

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Dwight Gooden, the New York Mets 19-year-old rookie Phenom sets the rookie record for strikeouts in a season as he fans 16 in a 2-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. Herb Score of the Cleveland Indians set the old record of 245 strikeouts by a rookie in 1955. Gooden would finish his rookie campaign with a record of 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA and 276 Ks.

Dwight Eugene Gooden was born on November 16, 1964, in Tampa, Florida. Gifted with a thunderbolt of a right arm, Gooden was the fifth overall player in the 1982 MLB Draft by the New York Mets. After a little over one season in the minor leagues, Gooden, at the insistence of manager Davey Johnson made the opening day roster and was in the starting rotation at the age of 19.

Dwight Gooden impressed fans right away, as he made his debut on April 7th at the Astrodome, earning the win as the Mets beat the Houston Astros 3-1. With high strikeout performances, Mets fans began to hang K’s up every time he pitched, giving birth to strikeout counters that today have become common in baseball. With a play on words, referring to the NBA’s Dr. J. nickname for Julius Erving, Gooden soon was being called Dr. K. Doc was at the forefront of a revitalized Mets team in 1984 that helped bring new life to Shea Stadium after seven straight losing seasons. With an 8-5 record in the first half, Dwight Gooden was selected as an All-Star, becoming the youngest player to ever appear in the mid-summer classic. Pitching in the fifth inning at Candlestick Park, Gooden struck out all three batters he faced (Lance Parrish and Chet Lemon of the Detroit Tigers and Alvin Davis of the Seattle Mariners.)

After the All-Star Break, Dwight Gooden was even better, as he reached double-digit strikeout numbers in every game. As the Mets battled the Chicago Cubs in the National League East, it was the rookie keeping the Mets' chances afloat as he had five straight wins heading into a Wednesday Night start against the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates, with Herb Score’s rookie record of 245 strikeouts in reach. There was a buzz at Shea Stadium, as Dwight Gooden needed 11 strikeouts to set the record for strikeouts by a rookie. After retiring the first four batters without a strikeout, Gooden found his groove in the second inning as he fanned Tony Pena and Jim Morrison. Gooden added two more strikeouts in the third and two in the fourth to sit with six, and the game was scoreless, with John Tudor pitch well for Chuck Tanner’s Pirates. The Mets finally broke through in the bottom of the fourth as Hubie Brooks hit a two-run homer with Keith Hernandez on base. Fired up with a 2-0 lead, Gooden struck out the side in the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, Gooden equaled the record by fanning Tudor, the opposing pitcher. One batter later, Marvell Wynne went down swinging as Dwight Gooden became the holder of the rookie strikeout mark. Dr. K added two more strikeouts in the seventh and struck out the side again in the eighth to set a new season-high with 16 Ks. Dwight Gooden would not record another strikeout in the ninth but finished the game, earning his 16th win against eight losses as the Mets beat the Pirates 2-0.

Dwight Gooden would strike out 21 over his last two games, finishing the season with 276 strikeouts as he won the National League Rookie of the Year and finished second in voting for the Cy Young behind Rick Sutcliffe of the Cubs. The Mets would also finish second to the Cubs in the NL East. Gooden would show the following year that his rookie year was not a fluke, as he had one of the greatest seasons in baseball history, with a 24-4 record, 268 strikeouts, and a 1.53 ERA, the lowest since the mound was lowered in 1969.

Sadly the first two years were as good as it would get for Dwight Gooden as issues with drugs and arm troubles would soon plague his career. However, he did manage to become the fastest pitcher to reach 100 wins in 1989.