On Oct. 6, 1980, the Dodgers hosted the Astros for the National League's first one-game playoff. Houston was reeling, having lost the final three games of the regular season to Los Angeles and forcing this winner-take-all contest for the NL West. But as it turned out, the club had no cause for anxiety.
On that day, in probably the most meaningful game played by the Astros' franchise up to that point, Joe Niekro was completely in control. Scattering six hits over nine innings, allowing only one unearned run, striking out six and walking two, the 35-year-old knuckleballer went the distance to lead the Astros to their first division title and take home his 20th victory of the season.
Dickey allowed three runs in 7 2/3 innings, tied a career high with 13 strikeouts and won his 20th game of the year.
Dickey took over the NL lead -- passing Clayton Kershaw -- for strikeouts (222), but fell to second in ERA, with his 2.69 mark just a bit higher than Kershaw's 2.68 ERA. Dickey's 20th win came on the same day that Gio Gonzalez won his 21st game.
Dickey is the Mets' first 20-game winner since Frank Viola recorded 20 victories in 1990. Dickey is the sixth Mets pitcher to win 20, joining Tom Seaver ('69, '71, '72, '75), Jerry Koosman ('76), Dwight Gooden ('85), David Cone ('88) and Viola. Dickey is the first Mets pitcher since Gooden in '85 to reach 20 wins and 220 strikeouts.
Mets 20-game winners
|R.A. Dickey on Thursday became the Mets' ninth 20-game winner, and the franchise's sixth pitcher to achieve the feat:|
Dickey is also the first knuckleballer since Niekro in 1980 to win 20 games. That season, Niekro was 20-12 with a 3.55 ERA in 256 innings. In the previous season, Niekro and his brother Phil tied for the NL lead in wins, with 21.
Dickey's 13 strikeouts gave him seven double-digit strikeout games this season, the most for the Mets since David Cone had eight in 1992. Those seven games are the most in the NL, and are one behind Yu Darvish's total for the most in the Majors.
Dickey is the first pitcher to win at least 20 games in his age-37 or older season since Mike Mussina -- who accomplished the feat in his age-39 season -- posted a record of 20-9 in 2008. Like Dickey, Mussina's 20-win season that year was the first of his career.
The Reds scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to defeat the Brewers, 2-1, with the game-winning run produced by a Dioner Navarro triple. The walk-off triple was the third of the season in the Majors, and the first for the Reds since Sept. 7, 1993, when Reggie Sanders hit one.
The Tigers' Fister struck out nine consecutive Royals batters to set an American League record. Nolan Ryan (July 9, 1972; Aug. 7, 1973), Ron Davis (May 4, 1981), Roger Clemens (April 29, 1986) and Blake Stein (June 17, 2001) shared the previous record of eight. The Mets' Tom Seaver holds the Major League record, with 10 straight strikeouts on April 22, 1970. Fister concluded his day with 10 strikeouts and no walks.
Ian Kinsler hit his 27th career leadoff home run, tying him with Johnny Damon for the 18th-highest total in history.
Matt Harrison allowed four runs in six innings but picked up his 18th win for the Rangers. Harrison tied Kenny Rogers (in 2004) for the most wins in a season by a left-hander in Senators/Rangers history. The overall club record is held by Fergie Jenkins, who captured 25 victories in 1974.
The Athletics hit five home runs in a loss to the Rangers. The last time Oakland lost a game when hitting at least five long balls was May 5, 2000, when they lost to the Rangers, 17-16. In Thursday's game, Josh Reddick hit two to give him 31 for the season, Yoenis Cespedes hit his 22nd of the year and Brandon Moss hit his 20th (while Derek Norris hit his sixth).
Reddick's 31 homers are the most for the team since Jack Cust had 33 in 2008. The 31 are part of his total of 64 extra-base hits, the most for the team since Eric Chavez had 68 in '05.
Cespedes' 22 home runs are the most in team history for a first-year player. He had been tied at 21 with Bob Johnson's 1933 season and Mitchell Page's total in '77.
Moss' 20th home run gave the A's three players with at least 20 for the first time since 2006, when Frank Thomas, Chavez and Nick Swisher all reached the mark.
Harper hit his 21st home run in a 2-for-4, two-RBI night for the Nationals that raised his total to 58 RBIs.
Harper's 21 long balls leave him three shy of matching Tony Conigliaro (1964) for the most in history for a teenage season, while the 58 RBIs moved Harper past Sherry Magee ('04) and into the eighth slot for a player in his age-19 or younger season. Harper needs three more RBIs to tie Ken Griffey Jr. for the seventh most. Harper also has 240 total bases, tying Buddy Lewis ('36) for the most for a player in a teenage season.
In 25 games in September, Harper has a .305/.377/.611 line (.988 OPS) and has hit five doubles, three triples and six home runs, and has driven in 13 runs while scoring 23.
Gonzalez allowed three runs and six hits in six innings and picked up his 21st win of the year, as the Nationals defeated the Phillies, 7-3, to reduce their magic number for clinching the NL East to three.
The 21 wins are the most in franchise history, surpassing Ross Grimsley's 20 victories for the 1978 Expos.
Gonzalez is the second NL southpaw in as many years to reach 21 victories, after Kershaw did it last season en route to winning the NL Cy Young Award. Before last year, the NL hadn't had a 21-game winning left-hander since Dontrelle Willis in 2005.
Gonzalez has thrown 199 1/3 innings this season. The pitcher who finished with at least 21 wins in the fewest innings is Andy Pettitte in 2003, who threw 208 1/3 innings.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays defeated the White Sox, 3-2, for their eighth straight win.
Tampa Bay last won at least eight consecutive games in a season in 2004, when the club established a franchise record with 12 straight wins.
With the victory, the Rays tied the Angels with an 86-70 record. Both clubs are two games behind the Athletics for the second spot in the AL Wild Card. The Orioles own a one-game lead over Oakland.
The Rays improved to 15-9 this September. In 2011-12 combined, the team is 32-19 in the final month of the season.
Chicago White Sox
Chicago's loss to the Rays dropped it two games behind the Tigers for first in the AL Central. Detroit's magic number to clinch the division is five.
Rodney worked around a two-out single and pitched a scoreless ninth inning to record his 46th save of the season. The save made Rodney the single-season franchise record holder for the Rays, surpassing the 45 saves collected by Rafael Soriano in 2010. The scoreless inning dropped Rodney's ERA to 0.62; the lowest ERA ever for a reliever with at least 50 innings (Rodney has thrown 72 1/3 innings) is Dennis Eckersley's 0.61 ERA in 73 1/3 innings in 1990.
Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions.