Max Scherzer

Highest single-game strikeout totals by a pitcher in MLB history

Home » MLB » Most Strikeouts in a Game: Highest Strikeout Totals in a Single Game

Most big league pitchers dream of one day recording the most strikeouts in a game.

Only a select few have ever come close to reaching the single game strikeout record for a pitcher. Even in an era when strikeouts are far more prevalent, pitchers don’t pitch as deep into games, making it hard for anyone to set a new record for the most strikeouts in a nine-inning game.

Most strikeouts in a game

The highest strikeout total in a single game by one pitcher remains at 20 strikeouts. In fact, only 12 pitchers in baseball history have recorded 19 strikeouts or more during a nine-inning game.

Technically, fewer than 12 because a couple of them have done it on more than one occasion. With that being said, let’s take a closer look at the pitchers who have recorded the most strikeouts in a game.

Charlie Sweeney, 19 (1884)

Charlie Sweeney was the first pitcher to strike out 19 batters in a nine-inning game. He did so on June 7, 1884, while pitching for the Providence Grays against the Boston Beaneaters.


As we’ll see, others would tie his record of 19 strikeouts over the years, but nobody would officially break it for 102 years. Unfortunately, arm trouble would hinder Sweeney’s career, which only lasted from 1882 to 1887 and included a mere 505 strikeouts. However, Sweeney can be considered the original single-game strikeout king.

Hugh Daily, 19 (1884)

Hugh Daily had a brief but impressive big league career during the 1880s. Exactly one month after Sweeney struck out 19 batters, Daily did the same while pitching for the Chicago Browns against the Boston Reds.

However, there was a report years later that Daily struck out a 20th batter who reached first base when the catcher didn’t catch the third strike. Unofficially, Daily might have struck out 20 in that game, which would have given him the record more than a century before anyone else struck out 20 batters in a nine inning game. But in the official record books, Daily’s strikeout total in that game is 19.

Steve Carlton, 19 (1969)

Steve Carlton is one of the best left-handed pitchers of all time and led the National League in strikeouts on five occasions. With that being said, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he once struck out 19 batters in a game during the 1969 season.

The game was played in mid-September against the rival Mets while Carlton was pitching for the Cardinals. The caveat is that St. Louis lost the game with Carlton taking the loss, giving up four runs on nine hits, including a pair of home runs, despite fanning 19 batters.


Tom Seaver, 19 (1970)

Tom Terrific is undoubtedly one of the greatest pitchers of all time, receiving 98.84% of the Hall of Fame vote, which is a total that few players have come close to matching or exceeding.

Among his many accomplishments was a game in 1970 when he struck out 19 batters during a nine-inning game, which was tied with the all-time record at the time. Not surprisingly, Seaver set another record in that game by striking out each of the last 10 batters he faced to end the game. Tom Seaver allowed just one run on two hits in that game, leading the Mets to a win.

Nolan Ryan, 19 (1974)

It’s almost shocking that Nolan Ryan never made it to 20 strikeouts in a single game, especially since he’s the all-time strikeout king and led the league in strikeouts 11 times during his career.

During the 1974 season, he actually struck out 19 batters on three separate occasions. The catch is that he only did so once over nine innings, doing so against the Red Sox on August 12. Earlier that season, Ryan struck out 19 batters in a game he pitched 13 innings. He also struck out 19 batters over 11 innings in August, finishing that season with 367 strikeouts.

David Cone, 19 (1991)

While David Cone would eventually pitch a perfect game in 1999, he also put together a 19-strikeout game while pitching with the Mets in 1991.

This accomplishment sometimes gets lost in a career that also included five all-star selections and a Cy Young award. Of course, he also led the National League in strikeouts in both 1990 and 1991, as his 19-strikeout performance against the Phillies in his final start of the 1991 season surely helped.

Randy Johnson, 19 (June 24, 1997)

Striking out 19 batters in one game almost pales in comparison to some of Johnson’s other accomplishments. The surprising part is that it took him until 1997 to have a game like this when he was already a Cy Young winner.

Nevertheless, he reached 19 strikeouts on June 24, 1997, against Oakland. Oddly enough, that was far from Randy Johnson’s best performance, as he allowed four runs and 11 hits, actually taking the loss despite all of those strikeouts.

Randy Johnson, 19 (August 8, 1997)

Barely six weeks after striking out 19 against Oakland, Johnson did it again, striking out 19 batters on August 8 against the White Sox.

This was a far better performance from The Big Unit, as Johnson tossed nine scoreless innings, allowing just five hits and three walks, appearing far more dominant while mowing down 19 batters.

Roger Clemens, 20 (1986)

Early in the 1986 season, Roger Clemens became the first pitcher in MLB history to strike out 20 batters in one game, surpassing the five pitchers who had maxed out at 19 strikeouts at that time.

Clemens accomplished the feat at Fenway Park against the Seattle Mariners. That performance was a coming-out party for Clemens, as he would go on to win his first of seven Cy Young awards after the 1986 season. 

Roger Clemens, 20 (1996)

More than 10 years after striking out 20 batters for the first time, Clemens accomplished the feat for the second time against the Detroit Tigers in September 1996.

He remains the only pitcher to strike out 20 hitters in one game on two separate occasions. The amazing part is that Clemens was 34 years old by that point and nearing the end of his time with the Red Sox. 

Kerry Wood, 20 (1998)

Kerry Wood’s career became plagued by injuries, but during the early part of his time in the big leagues, he was capable of dominating lineups.

In just his fifth career start, Wood struck out 20 batters while facing the Houston Astros. He was one hit and one hit batter away from pitching a perfect game, doing so against a Houston lineup that had four batters finish the season with a batting average of .300 or better.

Outside of no-hitters or perfect games, it may have been one of the most dominant performances a pitcher has ever had.

Max Scherzer, 20 (2016)

In 2016, Max Scherzer became the most recent pitcher to tie the record for most strikeouts in a game. He remains the only pitcher to reach the 20-strikeout threshold in the 21st century.

Scherzer was pitching for the Nationals at the time, ironically striking out 20 batters in nine innings against his former team, the Detroit Tigers.

Of the 20 strikeouts, nine of them came on just three pitchers, which isn’t a surprise, as 96 of his 119 pitches in that game were thrown for strikes. In the process, Scherzer also became just the second pitcher in baseball history to have both a 20-strikeout game and a no-hitter on his resume.

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