When New York Mets’ outfielder Amos Otis fanned to end the top of the ninth inning of a 4-3 Mets’ win over the St. Louis Cardinals, his teammates yelled from the dugout, “Let’s hear it for Otis! Three cheers for Amos! Send his bat to Cooperstown.”
That’s because Cardinals’ Steve Carlton made Otis his 19th strikeout victim on Sept. 15, 1969 -- 41 years ago this week -- to set a new major league record for strikeouts in a nine inning game.
The 24-year-old left-hander broke the previous record of 18 strikeouts held by Cleveland’s Bob Feller (1938), Los Angeles’ Sandy Koufax – who did it twice (1959 and 1962) – and Houston’s Don Wilson (1968).
Carlton struck out 13 of the first 15 Mets he faced. Despite striking out the side the fourth inning, he issued a walk and allowed a home run to Ron Swoboda that put New York on top 2-1.
The Cardinals put more runs on the board in the fifth, but Swoboda belted another two-run home run to make it a 4-3 game. Through eight innings Carlton had racked up 16 strikeouts, a number he reached in a 1967 game against the Philadelphia Phillies.
“I didn’t know until I saw on the message board that I’d tied my record,” Carlton said. “I didn’t think I had struck out that many. Then I decided to go for it."
In the ninth inning Carlton struck out pitcher Tug McGraw, shortstop Bud Harrelson and Otis to break the record.
Nine of Carlton’s strikeouts were swinging and 10 were called; 12 came on fastballs, five on sliders and two on curveballs. He threw 152 pitches in the game, 106 for strikes.
Swoboda said Carlton’s performance awed him, but not so much that he would forget that it also set a record for strikeouts by a losing pitcher.
“I’m going to go home, sleep and forget it because I can’t believe it,” Swoboda said. “That record is going to stand a long time.”
The record fell 17 years later when Boston’s Roger Clemens struck out 20 Seattle Mariners on April 29, 1986. Clemens duplicated the feat the in 1996 against Detroit and the Chicago Cubs’ Kerry Wood matched it against Houston in 1998.
The Cardinals traded Carlton to Philadelphia before the 1972 season for pitcher Rick Wise, and Carlton promptly had the best season of his Hall of Fame career.
He made 41 starts and went 27-10 with 1.97 ERA on a team that won only 59 games all season. Carlton also led the league with 310 strikeouts and 30 complete games, winning the first of four career Cy Young Awards.
All four of his Cy Young Award trophies are in the collection at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Carlton retired second on the all-time strikeout list to Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan with 4,136, and his 329 wins rank second among left-handed pitchers, trailing another Hall of Famer, Warren Spahn.
He was a member of two World Series champion teams, with the Cardinals in 1967 and with the Phillies in 1980.
Carlton was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994 in his first year of eligibility.
Chris Blake was the 2010 publications intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum