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Real or not? Sale’s exit costs him a shot at 20 K’s

When Roger Clemens first set the major league record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game in 1986, he threw 138 pitches. When he did it again 10 years later, he needed 151 pitches. Kerry Wood threw 122 pitches, Randy Johnson 124 and Max Scherzer a relatively efficient 119 pitches when he fanned 20 in 2016.

How many Colorado Rockies could Chris Sale have punched out? Would he have set the record? Would he have fanned at least four batters with six outs to play?cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

We’ll never know. Sale was magnificent on a February-like night at Fenway Park, striking out a career-high 17 batters through seven innings. He would not pitch the eighth inning. Nolan Arenado had broken up his shutout with a two-run home run in the seventh, so maybe Alex Cora saw some fatigue settling in, but Cora also saw the pitch count: 108. The 21-strikeout game remains an elusive ambition.1

Sale’s season high in pitches is 111. His season high last year was 116. In 2017, it was 118. Leaving him in for a shot at the record would have required another 30 pitches or so, given his game average of 15.4 pitches per inning. That kind of pitch count is unheard of in today’s game — only Mike Fiers in his no-hitter and Trevor Bauer (twice) have reached even 120 pitches this season. Last season, a starter threw 120 pitches just 12 times and only Sean Newcomb, in a no-hit bid, threw 130. It just doesn’t happen.

I have no doubt Sale was strong enough to set the record. After the Arenado home run with no outs, he fanned the next three batters on 12 pitches. It certainly appeared he had enough left in the tank. Cora played it safe and probably played it smart. It’s a long season, after all, and those would have been high-stress pitches. Still, when Sale didn’t come out for the eighth, there was a twinge of disappointment. Maybe one more inning, Alex?cheap nfl jerseys china nike

You know, for all the changes in recent years — the shift, the advanced analytics available via Statcast data, all the home runs — the biggest change in the game over two decades is pitch counts. In 1998, the year Wood struck out 20 batters, a starter threw 120-plus pitches 498 times. That’s 10.2 percent of all games compared to 0.2 percent last season.

That doesn’t mean the 21-strikeout game is impossible — Scherzer had a shot at 21, but James McCann managed to ground out — but the strict limits on pitch counts make it more difficult and less likely, even with strikeouts on the rise. Scherzer threw 96 strikes out of 119 pitches (80.7 percent) and actually allowed six hits, but throwing 80 percent strikes is almost impossible. Sale was at 68.5 percent, 74 of 108 pitches. (The highest strike rate this season is Kyle Hendricks at 77.8 percent in his absurd 81-pitch shutout against the Cardinals.)