MLB record broken by little-known reliever

August 2nd, 2020

DETROIT -- Tigers reliever had one double-digit strikeout game in his entire pro career. He averaged less than a strikeout an inning as a rookie last season. But on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park, the left-hander turned a long relief appearance into strikeout history.

Alexander struck out the first nine batters he faced in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader against the Reds, tying former Tiger Doug Fister’s American League record for consecutive strikeouts in a game.

The nine consecutive strikeouts are a Major League record for a reliever. Former Yankees reliever Ron Davis struck out eight consecutive California Angels on May 4, 1981.

“I normally don't try to strike people out,” Alexander said after the 4-3 Tigers loss, “but I would say after the fifth strikeout I was trying to strike people out.”

Alexander replaced starter Rony García after ex-Tiger Nick Castellanos hit his second home run of the afternoon to lead off the third inning for a 3-0 Reds lead. Alexander then …

• Struck out Mike Moustakas on a foul tip
• Struck out Eugenio Suárez on three pitches, all looking
• Struck out Jesse Winker on three pitches, all swinging
• Struck out Nick Senzel swinging
• Struck out Josh VanMeter on three pitches, the last called
• Struck out Freddy Galvis swinging on a 3-2 breaking ball
• Struck out Tucker Barnhart on a called third strike
• Struck out Shogo Akiyama on a called third strike
• Struck out Castellanos swinging on a 2-2 curveball

That tied Fister’s record, which the ex-Tiger set when he struck out the Royals lineup in order on Sept. 27, 2012, at Comerica Park. The feat was announced in a virtually empty ballpark as Alexander walked back into the dugout.

Alexander threw 39 pitches in his stretch, 29 for strikes. The lefty induced 11 swings and misses overall, five of them off his breaking ball. His slider was moving so much that it looked like a curveball on Statcast.

“I made a big focus on missing down,” he said. “I didn’t have very many bad misses, and the mistakes I made were in the dirt, so it gave me a chance for them to swing at it.”

The Tigers announced after the game that the hat Alexander wore on Sunday would be heading to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but the lefty said he didn’t consider the record special, that he was more pleased that his slider was working.

“It's awesome, because I’ve been working on that slider forever,” Alexander said. “And my biggest issue has been spinning the ball. It’s been good here and there the last couple weeks. It showed signs of being real good here and there. It’s never been this good.”

Alexander entered the day with 50 career strikeouts over 57 2/3 Major League innings. His single-game high was nine, set over 4 1/3 innings in a start last July 27 at Seattle.

Alexander needed one more strikeout to tie Tom Seaver’s Major League record; Seaver struck out 10 consecutive San Diego Padres to close out a complete game for the Mets on April 22, 1970. Alexander seemed poised to get there, putting Moustakas in an 0-2 count to lead off the sixth inning. But Moustakas laid off a breaking ball just below the knees and fouled off a tough breaking ball on the inside corner. Alexander’s next pitch hit him, ending the streak.

“I tried to strike him out, I did,” Alexander said. “But I ran it up and in and hit Moustakas in the wrist, unfortunately.”

Alexander is also the first pitcher with 10-plus strikeouts in a relief outing since Randy Johnson set the record with 16 on July 18, 2001.