The Yankees and Cubs set a major-league record by striking out a combined 48 times in the Yankees’ 5-4, 18-inning victory at Wrigley Field last Sunday night.
Strikeout rates have been rising so much that the old record must have been from, like, last week, right?
Actually, no. The old record was set way back on July 9, 1971, when the then-California Angels and Oakland A’s combined to strike out 43 times in Oakland’s 1-0, 20-inning victory at the Oakland Coliseum.
That game was a snapshot in time. The A’s were a year away from three consecutive World Series championships and won 101 games in 1971. The Angels were suffering through a 76-86 season.
The game took 5:05 and the attendance was 22,938. It is remembered for two things: all the strikeouts, including six in eight hitless at-bats by Angels leftfielder Billy Cowan, and the unfortunate night of California rightfielder Tony Conigliaro, who went 0-for-8 with five strikeouts, was ejected in the 19th inning and retired at a 5 a.m. news conference at the team hotel (he briefly returned to the Red Sox four years later).
“I was hitting behind Tony, so we were passing each other a lot that night,” Cowan told The Los Angeles Times in 1991. “When he struck out, he would have to pass me on his way to the dugout. After a while I was saying stuff like, ‘Well, it’s my turn next.’ But Tony wouldn’t laugh.”
There is more to the story of this game that just a strikeout record that stood for 46 years. Some of the highlights:
n The A’s scored with two outs in the bottom of the 20th — the term “walk-off” had not been invented — when Angel Mangual hit a bloop single off Mel Queen to drive in Curt Blefary, who was hit by a pitch to start the inning.
“At that point, you just wanted someone to end it, anyone,” Angels outfielder Roger Repoz told The Los Angeles Times. “It didn’t even matter which team won. We just wanted to go back to the hotel and get some sleep.”
If the A’s hadn’t scored, the game would have been suspended until the next day because the AL had a 1 a.m. curfew for new innings to begin.
- Four future Hall of Famers appeared, all for Oakland, which was managed by future Hall of Famer Dick Williams. They were Reggie Jackson (who went 0-for-3 with a walk before being replaced in the bottom of the ninth by a pinch runner, pitcher Blue Moon Odom, after Jackson stole second base and suffered a leg injury); Rollie Fingers (who threw seven shutout innings of relief; he was not exclusively a reliever yet, starting eight games that season); Catfish Hunter (who was the final batter to strike out as he went down as a pinch hitter right before Mangual ended it), and shortstop Tony La Russa (who struck out in his only at-bat; La Russa, a career .199 hitter, went into the Hall as a manager).
Dave Duncan, who went on to become La Russa’s longtime pitching coach, was the starting catcher for the A’s. He went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.
- There was no DH, as the AL didn’t adopt it until 1973, but only seven men pitched. Oakland starter Vida Blue struck out 17 and walked none in 11 innings. Blue finished the season 24-8 with a 1.82 ERA and won the AL Cy Young and MVP awards. Angels starter Rudy May struck out 13 and walked six in 12 innings.
- May was among the future Yankees to appear for the Angels, as were second baseman Sandy Alomar, first baseman Jim Spencer and a young outfielder named Mickey Rivers, who popped to short as a pinch hitter in the 13th.
- Mangual (3-for-8) and A’s third baseman Sal Bando (0-for-4, four walks) were the only men to play the whole game and not strike out. Jackson, who holds the major-league record with 2,597 strikeouts, did not strike out.
- Of the 18 hits in the game, 17 were singles. California’s Gerry Moses doubled in the sixth.
- It was not the A’s longest game that season. Oakland beat the Senators in Washington, 5-3, in 21 innings on June 4. Blefary also scored the tiebreaking run in that one on a walk to Jackson. There were only 22 strikeouts and 6,159 fans at RFK Stadium.
The Senators, who were managed by Ted Williams, became the Texas Rangers in 1972.
In the 1971 game, the Angels struck out 26 times, a record that was tied by the Cubs last Sunday night.
In 1941, Williams struck out 27 times in a season in which he led the majors with 37 home runs.