BOSTON — Catch a whiff of this: Five Boston Red Sox pitchers combined to tie a major league record for strikeouts Thursday night.
Drew Pomeranz, Heath Hembree, Robby Scott, Matt Barnes and Craig Kimbrel punched out 20 Texas Rangers batters in a 6-2 victory to complete a series sweep at Fenway Park. It marked only the sixth time a team recorded 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game. The Red Sox have accounted for half of those instances.
“That’s a lot [of strikeouts],” said Pomeranz, who was responsible for 11 of them, tying his career-high.
Barnes, who fanned two batters in the eighth inning, said: “To be honest with you, I didn’t have any idea. We just knew we had a lot. It’s pretty cool.”
But the way the Red Sox reached the mark was every bit as rare as the feat itself.
Kimbrel opened the ninth inning by striking out Nomar Mazara on a pitch that hit Mazara on the back foot. The ball kicked away, Mazara dashed to first base, and home-plate umpire Chad Fairchild ruled it a wild pitch.
Red Sox manager John Farrell requested a video review but was told by crew chief Alfonso Marquez that the play was not reviewable. Mazara was permitted to remain at first base and Kimbrel struck out the next three batters, his second career four-strikeout inning, bringing the team total to 20.
If Mazara had been called out, the Red Sox would’ve wound up with 19 strikeouts.
In any case, Red Sox pitching overpowered the Rangers, with Pomeranz setting the tone by striking out seven of the first nine batters. It was quite a turnaround from his previous three starts. Pomeranz got knocked out after four innings by the Milwaukee Brewers on May 9, left a May 14 start against the Tampa Bay Rays after three innings with forearm tightness and needed 97 pitches to complete four innings Saturday at Oakland.
“I’ve been working hard all week trying to clean up my mechanics a little bit, trying to get back to the way I was throwing last year,” Pomeranz said. “Along with that comes pitch usage. I threw my slider/cutter a lot more today, and I was throwing a couple changeups. I pretty much was throwing everything for strikes.”
When Pomeranz pitches so effectively, the Red Sox’s rotation is formidable, particularly if David Price is able to make a successful return next week from a spring training elbow issue.
Kimbrel, meanwhile, has been an exclamation point at the end of Red Sox games, piling up 40 strikeouts against only two walks in 20⅔ innings. He has a 0.87 ERA and 12 saves in 13 opportunities.
“The guy strikes out the world,” Barnes said. “You guys see his numbers as well as I do and watch the game just as closely as we do. What he’s doing right now, I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Red Sox fans of a certain age had never seen 20 strikeouts in a game, either. Roger Clemens struck out 20 batters against the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 18, 1996, and the Seattle Mariners on April 29, 1986.
The other 20-strikeout games were accomplished by Kerry Wood (May 6, 1998, for the Chicago Cubs against the Houston Astros), five Los Angeles Angels pitchers (Sept. 25, 2012, versus Seattle) and Max Scherzer (May 11, 2016, for the Washington Nationals versus Detroit).
“Tonight was just an outstanding display of pitching from the mound,” Farrell said. “Every guy that walked to the mound.”