On this day in 1996, Boston Red Sox pitcher Roger Clemens strikes out 20 Detroit Tigers, tying his own major league record for most strikeouts in a game.
Ten years earlier, on April 20, 1986, Clemens, then just 23 years old, had broken Steve Carlton’s modern (post-1900) record of 19 strikeouts in a single game during an outing against the Seattle Mariners at Fenway Park. On that day, “The Rocket” was at the beginning of an MVP and Cy Young Award-winning season and eventually led the Red Sox to the American League pennant. The1996 season was a much different story for both Clemens and the Red Sox. The Sox finished the year a disappointing third in the American League East behind the New York Yankees, the team’s archrival, and the Baltimore Orioles. Though Clemens finished the year first in the AL in strikeouts, he posted 10 wins and 13 losses, the second losing record of his career. The 1996 season was also the last year of Clemens’ contract with Boston, and many in the Red Sox organization and among the team’s faithful suspected that he might not return.
Clemens started the game out strong on September 18 striking out fifteen players in the first six inniClemens played on the aggressiveness of the Detroit batters, throwing seemingly hittable fastballs by their bats and fooling them with hard sliders in the dirt. Going into the ninth inning, Clemens was unaware that he had already racked up19 strikeouts and was just one away from tying his own record. The first Detroit batter, Alan Trammell, hit an easy pop fly for the first out. The second, Ruben Sierra, singled before Tony Clark, who had already struck out three times, hit another fly ball for the second out. Travis Fryman then struck out swinging to become Clemens’ 20th victim.
With the 4-0 win, Clemens also tied his team’s record for most shutouts by a pitcher (38) and most wins (192), both of which were set by legendary Sox pitcher Cy Young in 1911.
Amidst rumors of tension between Clemens and Boston’s general manager, Dan Duquette, Clemens left the Red Sox after the 1996 season and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. He dominated in Toronto from the start, winning the Cy Young Award in 1997 and 1998. He was then traded to the Yankees, where he helped pitch them into the World Series four times in five years. After a three-season stint with the Houston Astros (2004-06), Clemens rejoined the Yankees in 2007 at age 44.