Birthdays are important. It’s always fun to do something exciting on your birthday -- and for a baseball player, it’s hard to imagine anything better than turning in a strong performance on one’s special day.
Some stars -- like Clayton Kershaw (March 19), Buster Posey (March 27), Chris Sale (March 30), among many others -- have birthdays that are typically during the offseason, and have therefore not gotten the chance to shine on that particular day. But plenty of others, like Gerrit Cole and Randy Johnson, have shown us just how great they are on the anniversary of the day they entered the world.
One performance not mentioned below that still merits a mention: Warren Spahn’s 30th birthday in 1951. He pitched a whopping 15 2/3 innings, the most by any birthday boy. But he doesn’t make the top birthday performances list because his outing ended in the bottom of the 16th, when he allowed a walk-off single to Carl Furillo. The run, however, was unearned.
Here is a look at eight outstanding birthday performances, in both the regular season and postseason, in reverse chronological order.
Gerrit Cole, 29th birthday, Sept. 8, 2019: 15 strikeouts
On Cole’s 29th birthday against the Mariners, he turned in his fifth straight start with at least 10 strikeouts -- a streak that would run all the way to nine straight regular-season starts, a single-season Major League record. His 15 strikeouts were one shy of tying his career best, but he actually set a different record in the process. Cole’s 15 K's on this day were the most by any pitcher on his birthday. It was the 23rd double-digit strikeout game by a pitcher on his birthday.
Cole was practically flawless, allowing just one hit and one run -- both coming on a fourth-inning Shed Long solo homer -- and he did not walk a batter. The right-hander went eight innings, reaching 99 mph in his final frame of work, and the Astros won in a blowout, 21-1.
Barry Bonds, 39th birthday, July 24, 2003: walk-off HR
Bonds hit a Major League-record 762 home runs in his career, but only two of those came on his birthday: one in 1989, when he turned 25, and this one, on his 39th birthday. He made it count, knocking a solo homer off Mike Myers to win it for the Giants in the bottom of the ninth. Bonds’ walk-off shot was one of 11 walk-off homers by players on their birthday. The most recent was hit by Andruw Jones on April 23, 2010.
Bonds walked twice in the game, two of his 11 career walks on his birthday. That’s the most walks on a player’s birthday -- which should come as no surprise.
Alex Rodriguez, 27th birthday, July 27, 2002: 2 HRs, including a walk-off
Rodriguez celebrated his birthday in style in 2002, hitting two of his six career home runs on that date. He and Mark Reynolds are tied for the most birthday home runs. This game on Rodriguez’s 27th birthday was particularly special because he hit a walk-off home run to send Texas fans home happy. His first homer of the game came in the first off Aaron Harang, a solo shot to chip away at a 4-0 Rangers deficit. The game was tied at six apiece in the sixth, then both teams remained scoreless until the 10th, when Rodriguez came to the plate against Billy Koch. A-Rod hit a walk-off grand slam, sending the Rangers to a 10-6 win. It was his first career walk-off homer -- he’d go on to hit nine total.
Rodriguez hit 25 grand slams in his career, the most in Major League history, but this was the only one he hit on his birthday.
Nomar Garciaparra, 29th birthday, July 23, 2002: 3 HRs, 8 RBIs
Nomar celebrated his birthday in a way nobody else had, or has since, in 2002: by hitting three home runs. Garciaparra’s three-homer birthday performance came in the Red Sox’s 22-4 win against the Devil Rays in the first game of a July doubleheader. It was his second career three-homer game -- he’d also done it in May 1999 against the Mariners. Garciaparra knocked in eight runs in the game, too, setting a birthday record since RBIs became an official stat in 1920.
He didn’t just hit three home runs, though. He did it in only two innings, and they were consecutive. Garciaparra’s first two homers came in the Sox’s 10-run third inning, when he hit a two-run homer off Tanyon Sturtze, then another off Brandon Backe later in the frame. In the fourth, he went yard off Backe again for a grand slam. Talk about a birthday bash.
Randy Johnson, 37th birthday, Sept. 10, 2000: 14 strikeouts
Age was truly just a number for the Big Unit, and never was that more clear than on the day he turned 37 in 2000. To usher in another year, he went out and struck out 14 Marlins batters, setting a record at the time for most strikeouts on a birthday -- later broken by Cole, as noted above. Johnson threw 119 pitches over seven innings, allowing three runs (one earned). He recorded multiple strikeouts in five of his seven innings.
The D-backs weren’t able to deliver Johnson a team win on his birthday, though. He departed after the seventh in a tie game, and the Marlins won in the 12th on a walk-off single. Johnson’s 39 strikeouts on his birthday in his career are the most by any pitcher.
Willie Aikens, 26th birthday, Oct. 14, 1980 (WS Game 1): 2 HRs
Only three players have homered on their birthdays in the postseason: Aikens, Kolten Wong and Evan Longoria. Aikens’ performance stands out because he went deep twice on this day. In Game 1 of the 1980 World Series for the Royals, Aikens hit cleanup and made his presence known early, going deep in the third to extend the Royals' lead to 4-0. In the eighth, Aikens came up with George Brett on base and none out with the Royals trailing by three. Aikens went yard again, bringing the Royals to within a run. At that point in his career, he had just two regular-season multi-homer efforts in 309 games.
Kansas City couldn’t muster another run and lost the game, 7-6, but Aikens certainly had a historic birthday. Though the Royals lost the Series, Aikens had some good performances, hitting a walk-off single in Game 3 and delivering a second multi-homer game in Game 4.
Johnny Podres, 23rd birthday, Sept. 30, 1955 (WS Game 3): Complete game
Podres debuted for the Dodgers as a 20-year-old in 1953, and by the time he celebrated his 23rd birthday, he was already making the second World Series start of his career. The Dodgers trailed the Series, 2-0, to the Yankees entering Game 3, and Brooklyn needed a good outing to avoid going down 3-0. Podres did exactly that, pitching the only birthday complete game in postseason history.
Podres went on to win MVP of the Series, turning in another complete game in Game 7, that time in shutout fashion, to seal the first championship in Dodgers franchise history.
George Mullin, 32nd birthday, July 4, 1912: No-hitter
There’s only been one birthday no-hitter on record, and it belonged to Mullin, who was born on the fourth of July. In the second game of a doubleheader in 1912, Mullin kept the St. Louis Browns hitless and his Tigers won, 7-0. It was the first no-hitter in Tigers franchise history.
There have been five birthday complete-game one-hitters since then. The most recent birthday one-hitter in a complete game was by Andrew Heaney, on June 5, 2018.
Sarah Langs is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @SlangsOnSports.