The 5 best performances by Boston pitchers

January 18th, 2021

Hitting heroics have been a constant throughout the history of the Red Sox, which isn’t a big surprise when you consider the cozy dimensions of Fenway Park.

But Boston has also had numerous pitching performances for the ages, many of them produced by legends.

Here is my ranking of the top five single-game pitching performances in Red Sox history. For simplicity sake, we decided to keep it to only the regular season.

1) Pedro Martinez: Sept. 10, 1999
The Red Sox have had two 20-strikeout games (both by Roger Clemens) and 18 no-hitters in their history. But none of those performances quite match the dominance of what Martinez did on a Friday night at Yankee Stadium in 1999. Facing a team that was in the middle of a dynasty -- four World Series championships in five years -- Martinez carved them up with a one-hitter that included 17 strikeouts.

Chuck Knoblauch was hit by a pitch in the first inning, and Chili Davis took Martinez deep in the second. From there, Martinez was impenetrable. He retired the final 22 batters, 15 of them via strikeouts. By the ninth inning, Yankee Stadium fans were chanting “Pedro, Pedro, Pedro” as the eventual Hall of Famer struck out Knoblauch to end the masterpiece -- a 3-1 win for the Red Sox.

It was an iconic performance -- one that will surely never be forgotten by anyone who was at Yankee Stadium that night or watched it on television.

2) Roger Clemens: April 29, 1986
This was the game that helped transform Clemens from a promising young pitcher to an eventual all-time great. To say Clemens was electric on this chilly night at Fenway Park would be a great understatement.

Making the 39th start of his career, Clemens set a Major League record by striking out 20 in a 3-1 win over the Mariners. He walked none, while Seattle somehow scratched out three hits, including a solo homer by Gorman Thomas.

The dominance started from the first batter when Clemens punched out his former University of Texas teammate Spike Owen, as he fanned the first four hitters of the game. Through five innings, Clemens had 12 strikeouts, and it became clear something special was happening. Owen was the record-tying 19th strikeout. Clemens finished the magical performance by fanning Phil Bradley for the fourth time of the night. The 23-year-old Clemens was mobbed by teammates, and the Red Sox went on to win the American League pennant that season.

3) Pedro Martinez: Aug. 29, 2000
This was the most Pedro Martinez night ever. The one-hit masterpiece against the Rays started with controversy, as he hit Gerald Williams to open the bottom of the first and a brawl ensued. With both dugouts filled with raw emotion as tempers flared multiple times, Martinez channeled his focus into a brilliant pitching performance at Tropicana Field.

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The hit batter was the only baserunner Martinez allowed until the ninth inning, when John Flaherty ended the no-hit bid with a single. Martinez was at the height of his powers, walking none and striking out 13. The Red Sox won, 8-0.

4) Roger Clemens: Sept. 18, 1996
In what proved to be his 192nd and final win for the Red Sox, Clemens did the unthinkable and tied his own record by striking out 20 -- this time at Tiger Stadium. Just like in the performance against Seattle, he didn’t walk a batter.

It was his 38th shutout with the Red Sox, which still ties him with Cy Young for the most in team history. The first two Tigers batters in the ninth inning made contact for outs, making it seem like Clemens might get stuck at 19.

But Clemens punctuated the epic performance by striking out Travis Fryman. Kerry Wood (May 6, 1998), Randy Johnson (May 8, 2001) and Max Scherzer (May 11, 2016) are the only other three pitchers who have struck out 20 in a game.

5) Smoky Joe Wood: July 29, 1911
What a way to open a doubleheader. Wood came through with a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns. In the season before Fenway Park opened, this Boston home game was played at Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds, where Northeastern University currently sits. Of the 18 no-hitters in Red Sox history, Wood had the highest strikeout total (12) of any of them. He did it while walking only two. Time of game? A tidy 1 hour and 48 minutes.

Honorable mentions

Clay Buchholz, making his second Major League start, thrilled the Fenway faithful with a no-hitter against the Orioles that included nine strikeouts on Sept. 1, 2007. … On April 4, 2001, Hideo Nomo threw a no-hitter in the second game of the season at Baltimore, and it was his first start for the Red Sox. On May 25 of that season, Nomo came through with a start that was almost as impressive, tossing a one-hitter with no walks and 14 strikeouts against the Blue Jays … Jon Lester’s no-hitter against the Royals on May 19, 2008, is the last thrown by a Red Sox pitcher. It came less than two years after Lester was diagnosed with cancer … Derek Lowe’s transformation from closer to starter was punctuated when he threw a no-hitter on April 27, 2002, against the Rays. … Fittingly, Cy Young became the first pitcher in Red Sox history to throw a no-hitter on May 5, 1904, against the Philadelphia Athletics … Rick Porcello needed only 86 pitches to throw a one-hitter against the Yankees on Aug. 3, 2018.