Carlton records 300th win during historic season
In the same city that was home to his first big league team, Steve Carlton reached the pinnacle of his career on Sept. 23, 1983.
The future Hall of Famer returned to Busch Stadium wearing a Phillies uniform to face off against his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals. And this time, he was on the precipice of a major milestone: Lefty entered his start with exactly 299 career wins.
“I could tell he was more on edge than he usually is,” Phillies pitching coach Claude Osteen told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He really wanted to get this out of the way. He was pacing in the clubhouse with a bat and looked pretty anxious.”
The nerves didn’t seem to affect Carlton too much, though, as the left-hander turned in a dominant performance, working eight innings and striking out 12 while allowing two runs on seven hits, and Philadelphia secured a 6-2 win over St. Louis.
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Carlton helped his own cause by getting the scoring started in the top of the second, as he delivered a two-out run-scoring single. The Phillies took a 1-0 lead, and Carlton notched his first RBI of the season.
After Philadelphia added another run in the third, Carlton’s only blemish came in the fourth, when he allowed a two-run game-tying homer to Cardinals outfielder David Green.
But those would be the only two runs St. Louis could push across against the left-hander. Carlton cruised the rest of the way, as the Phillies continued to add on run support, plating three in the fifth and adding another in the sixth on Mike Schmidt’s RBI double.
With eight innings and more than 100 pitches in the books, Carlton was removed from the game going into the ninth inning.
“He could have finished, but I didn’t want to see him take the chance of getting into a high-pitch last inning that would have put him at 150 or 160 pitches,” Osteen said. “He could have struck out a couple more people, but what’s a couple of more strikeouts to the all-time strikeout leader?”
At the time, Carlton had struck out more batters than any pitcher in history. Nolan Ryan – who had traded spots atop the all-time K list throughout the 1983 season – passed Carlton for good in 1984. But Carlton would remain the all-time strikeout leader among left-handers for more than two decades.
In his 300th win, Carlton handed the ball off to left-hander Al Holland, who worked a scoreless ninth to close out the milestone victory. When the feat was complete, Holland headed straight for Carlton, handing him the game ball and embracing him as teammates gathered around to offer congratulations.
“I handed him the ball and he said, ‘Thanks,’ and I said, ‘No, Lefty, thank you,” Holland said. “It was an honor to be able to have got the last three outs of his 300th win and be able to hand him that game ball.”
With the win, Carlton became the 16th pitcher and the fourth left-hander to eclipse the 300-win mark.
Carlton had chosen not to speak to the media for several years prior to this point – and this night was no different. Still, his teammates were quick to speak up in favor of their ace.
“Lefty is not all wrapped up in stats and milestones,” Schmidt said. “If he was, he’d probably be talking to the press tonight about his 300th. But the most important thing tonight was that we won the game.”
Aside from marking a milestone for Carlton, the win was also significant in the larger scope of the playoff race. With the win over St. Louis – also their eighth consecutive win – the Phillies maintained their three-game lead in the NL East and reduced their magic number to clinch the division to six.
Philadelphia would win the NL East by six games and advance to the World Series that season before falling to the Orioles in five games.
Carlton, meanwhile, had several seasons left to continue collecting wins. He would close out his 24-year career in 1988 with 329 career victories and a 3.22 ERA, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994.
“He’s a dedicated pitcher, no doubt about it,” Schmidt told the News Journal. “I’m glad he’s on my team and I don’t have to face him.”
Janey Murray was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum