Cormoran Strike returns in Troubled Blood, the fifth in Robert Galbraith’s (J.K. Rowling) Strike series, and for a pitching coach, there’s nothing more exciting than talking about strikes. On April 18, 2012 Bartolo Colon threw a modern day record 38 strikes in a row between the 5th and 8th innings in a 3-1 victory over the Angels. Considering I have always asked my pitchers to “pound the zone,” this is a performance I could get behind, and the reason I chose Bartolo’s 2016 Topps card for my theoretical bookmark.
Do I remember watching this feat? No, I had to read about it the next morning, because while “Big Sexy” threw strike after strike after strike, my friend and I were sitting down the right field line at (then) AT&T Park watching an epic pitching duel between Matt Cain and Cliff Lee. Matt Cain, just five days after pitching a complete game 1-hitter against the Pirates (with zero walks and 11 strikeouts), pitched another nine innings, giving up just two hits, walking one, and not allowing a single run. Not to be outdone, Cliff Lee also went scoreless through nine innings, then went back out for the 10th, finishing the night giving up 7 hits over 10 innings and walking none. The two pitchers combined for 19 innings, nine hits, one walk, and 11 strikeouts.
Unfortunately for Lee, Antonio Bastardo came in to pitch the bottom of the 11th, and after striking out Brandon Crawford to begin the inning, gave up a single to Brandon Belt, saw Angel Pagan reach on an error, then gave up a walk-off single to Melky Cabrera. Doubly unfortunate for Cliff Lee, he went on the (then) Disabled List following the game and missed more than three weeks.
What’s possibly even more amazing than Matt Cain’s two game stretch allowing just three hits and zero runs over 18 innings is the fact that neither of those two starts were his best of the season. On June 13, 2012, two months to the day after his one hit gem against the Pirates, Cain took the mound at AT&T against the Astros and threw the 22nd perfect game in Major League History.
As amazing as Bartolo’s 38 consecutive strikes is, what amazed me even more is the previous modern-day record belonged to knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who threw 30 straight strikes in 1998. Pitch counts really weren’t kept very accurately prior to 1988, so it’s possible Wakefield never held the record at all, and that Bartolo still doesn’t hold the record, but I never would have thought a knuckleballer would ever be in the conversation. Wakefield has even thrown a 3-pitch inning… TWICE! How rare is a 3-pitch inning? Well, thank you for asking. I had assumed it was quite rare. In fact, there are 188 recorded 3-pitch innings, but since pitch counts were not kept very accurately prior to 1988, it’s possible there have been many, many more. Walter Johnson, for example, holds the record (as best we can tell) with four 3-pitch innings, but it’s also very possible he did it much more than that. Bret Saberhagen did it twice in one month.
J.K. Rowling has upset many with her views on the Trans community, so perhaps it’s best to allow yourself to pretend the Strike series is actually penned by a man named Robert Galbraith. But, however you feel about her, it’s hard to argue that she hasn’t been pounding the strike zone with her Cormoran Strike series as consistently and effectively as Bartolo and Wakefield did. Each of the five Strike novels have been wonderful. I’ve listened to all five, and that decision may have saved me from bodily harm in this case. Troubled Blood is such a massive book, had I dropped it on my face while reading, it would likely have done some major damage.