I live in the Chicago area and on my way home, as you might imagine, all the sports radio talk shows were talking about was Mark Buehrle's perfect-game against the Tampa Bay Rays last night. I really hate the Sox, but I actually got to watch the end of the game yesterday and I couldn't be happier to have seen a perfect-game thrown.
One thing they were talking about on the radio yesterday afternoon, rather briefly, got me to thinking. The
question posed was this: "which is harder, throwing a perfect game or striking out 20 in a game?" As most baseball fans have heard over and over in the past 18 hours, Buehrle's perfect-game was the 18th perfect-game in baseball history and the 16th since 1900. How many times has a pitcher struck out 20 in a game? It's happened 4 times in a regulation 9 inning game, twice by Roger Clemens, once by Randy Johnson and once by Kerry Wood.
Just mentioning that fact and those three names brings me to one somewhat obvious question given the fact that no pitcher in the major leagues had even accomplished said feat prior or since; could steriods or PEDS been involved? But I'll leave that for others to judge, here are the vitals on the four times it has happened:
April 29th, 1986
Clemens Line: 9.0IP, 3H, 1R, 1ER, 0BB, 20K
Just think about that for a minute, Clemens faced 30 batters and struck out 20 of them, that is crazy. Home plate umpire Vic Voltaggio told a batboy after the seventh inning, "This is best pitching performance I have ever seen." (Source: Sports Illustrated)
September 18th, 1996
Clemens Line: 9.0IP, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 20K
I would make the case that the first time he did it was more impressive because he faced less batters, but in this game he pitched a complete-game, 20K shutout. It's worth noting that he did not walk a batter in either 20K performance.
May 6th, 1998
Wood's Line: 9.0IP, 1H, 0R, 0ER, 0BB, 20K
Oh what could have been. Can you imagine if Wood had not allowed that ONE HIT. It would have gone down as the greatest Perfect Game of all time. As it stands, it is easily the most impressive of the 20K performances the world has seen. The fact that it came on the road also adds to the overall greatness of this performance.
May 8th, 2001
Johnson's Line: 9.0IP, 3H, 1R, 1ER, 0BB, 20K
Originally this was not considered to be in the same group as Clemens and Wood's performances because the game eventually went to extra innings. Later it was decided that it didn't matter, Johnson struck out 20 in 9.0IP, same as Clemens and Wood. Look at Randy Johnson's career though, it's quite impressive: a no-hitter, a perfect game (oldest player ever to do it), 2nd all-time in strikeouts, 300+ wins, and on and on. He's a no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer.
So I'll pose the question again, which is harder? 20Ks by one pitcher in a game has only happened 4 times, a perfect game has happened 18 times. One is the definition of Perfection, the other is the definition of Dominance. If you ask me, I'd rather see a perfect game, but I'm not sure a 20 strikeout performance wouldn't be equally impressive...