Maddux’s 3,000th strikeout delayed but inevitable

Written by: Justin Alpert

Greg Maddux endured a setback in his hunt for strikeout No. 3,000.

No, not in game action – the right-hander had exceeded 100 strikeouts in 18 consecutive seasons and averaged 161 punchouts per season in that span in his almost linear climb toward 3,000. 

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Rather, entering his July 26, 2005, start with 2,998 career strikeouts, Maddux sat through a rain delay. A storm drenched Wrigley Field and delayed first pitch by two hours and 43 minutes. Maddux, with an uncharacteristic 4.55 ERA in the first season of his Cubs reunion, took the mound before a packed house nonetheless.

“Maddux worth the wet,” read the Chicago Tribune headline. “The inevitability of the milestone made thousands of fans wait patiently for a chance to witness a little history.”

The fans got what they came for in the third inning, when San Francisco’s Omar Vizquel, batting from the left side, worked a 2-2 count. Maddux tossed a sinker at Vizquel’s hip, forcing the veteran with over 9,000 career plate appearances to flinch away from the plate. Just as it always had, Maddux’s fastball darted back toward the plate for a called strike three. With anyone else on the mound, Vizquel had likely dodged ball three.

But Maddux, who had made a home out of the low, outside corner, got the call. That corner was Maddux’s, and no umpire could take it from him.

The Cubs celebrated with their triumphant right-hander outside the dugout while Wrigley’s soaked spectators roared with applause. Maddux had become the 13th pitcher to strike out 3,000, and the ninth to also pair those strikeouts with 300 victories.

Not even this remarkable achievement could interfere with Maddux’s signature stoicism, though.

“Despite milestone, pitcher displays his usual aplomb,” wrote the Chicago Tribune.

Asked if he was excited before the game, Cubs’ manager Dusty Baker said: “Not really, because he doesn’t get excited about it. Most people are probably surprised, including myself, because you don’t really think of him as a strikeout pitcher. But he has struck out a lot of people.”

Maddux lacked the mid-to-high-90s velocity of the era’s great strikeout pitchers – Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martínez, to name a few – but he made up for it with a propensity for changing speeds and masterful command. Nicknamed “The Professor,” he froze hitters with his sinker, spun them around with his changeup, jammed them with his cutter and induced whiffs with his breaking balls.

The Cubs lost 3-2 in 11 innings but Maddux was excellent, allowing two runs in eight innings with a typically economical 89 pitches. At 39 years old, Maddux would start a league-leading 35 games and throw 225 innings in 2005. He retired after the 2008 season with 3,371 strikeouts and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.

Justin Alpert is the 2023 social media intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Leadership Development

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