Warren Spahn ties an MLB record with 18 strikeouts

Written by: Alex Coffey

When Warren Spahn took the mound on June 14, 1952 against the Chicago Cubs, only one man had recorded 18 strikeouts in a single MLB game: Bob Feller.

By 5:14 p.m. that night, the number had changed to two. But ever the team player, the southpaw didn’t care about that. To Spahn, another mark in the “L” column carried far more weight than his name on an exclusive list.

“I made a bad pitch to [Bill] Serena in the ninth,” he said to the Boston Globe. “Otherwise, we all could have gone home then. I had struck him out twice before he came up in the ninth.”

After a 15-inning marathon – where the Cubs beat the Braves 3-1 – the lefty was understandably frustrated. But all emotions aside, even Spahn himself had to admit that his pinpoint control that day held promise for the future.

“I didn’t feel good warming up before the game,” he said. “But once the game started I felt fine. I had the best stuff I’ve had all year. I was giving them good pitches with good stuff which is unusual. Anyway, it was encouraging to me that I had such a good fastball. The last two games I worked in my fastball was poor.”

Spahn produced the only Braves run of the game – in the sixth inning – a solo blast into the right field bullpen. In 15 innings, the team recorded only four hits. But on the mound, the future Hall of Famer was a wonder to behold.

Aside from the 18 historic Ks, Spahn showed a degree of calm under pressure. Beginning to tire in the top of the 10th, he found himself in a jam. The game was tied at 1-1 after Serena’s solo shot in the ninth, and the winning run was on third. Pinch hitter Randy Jackson had an opportunity to seize the day for the Cubs, but Spahn got the next two outs, the last one coming as his ninth strikeout.

From there, he caught a second wind, as he proceeded to double his strikeout count over the next four innings. What’s more, the southpaw only walked two batters, and none of those came until the top of the 15th. But ironically, those two walks were what cost him the game, as Hal Jeffcoat’s triple drove in Roy Smalley and Eddie Miksis, giving the Cubs the 3-1 win.

Spahn would strike out 11 in his next start four days later, setting a record for two-game strikeout totals with 29 – one more than Feller’s American League mark set in 1938.

The 15-inning contest was the tip of the iceberg for the southpaw, who would pitch until he was 44 and lead the National League in complete games in nine of his 21 seasons. He’d finish his career with 2,583 strikeouts, eighth on the all-time list for left-handed pitchers.

The outcome may have not been what he’d preferred, but if anything, it drove the future Hall of Famer to set his bar even higher.

“The heck with any strikeout records,” he said to the Boston Globe after his 11-strikeout game. “It winds up with me saying, next time I’ll have to be absolutely perfect.”

Alex Coffey was the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame

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