Rays right-hander James Shields reached 200 strikeouts for the second straight season Friday in a 12-1 win over the Blue Jays. Along the way, he recorded the team’s 1,267 strikeout, breaking the American League record set by the 2001 Yankees.
J.P. Arencibia was the victim. It was Shields’ third strikeout of the night on his way to finishing the game with nine.
The Rays ended the game with 1,275 strikeouts, leaving them 129 shy of the major league record of 1,404 strikeouts set by the 2003 Cubs. That’s out of reach with just 11 games to go. Still, 1,350 or strikeouts for an AL team could well be considered more impressive that 1,404 from an NL team that got to face pitchers most of the year.
Shields in the Rays’ leader at 202 strikeouts for the season, with David Price not too far behind at 188. Rookie Matt Moore has 169 strikeouts in 169 1/3 innings. The bullpen also deserves plenty of credit. Wade Davis has 80 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings, Joel Peralta has 77 in 61 1/3 innings and Jake McGee has 66 in 50 1/3 innings. Fernando Rodney’s 68 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings seem almost modest in comparison.
The Yankees and Astros are set for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday, and neither team will hold back as they seek a World Series berth. The Astros are prepared to back starter Charlie Morton with any able-bodied pitcher in their ranks — including Justin Verlander, though A.J. Hinch said it would be a “dream scenario” to get anything more from his ace — while the Yankees are prepared to utilize all but a few of their arms. One pitcher you won’t see? Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who last took the hill for the Yankees during their Game 5 shutout on Wednesday.
Tanaka expended 103 pitches over seven scoreless innings in his last start, fending off the Astros with three hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. He hasn’t pitched on fewer than three days of rest all year, and even with a do-or-die scenario facing the Yankees on Saturday night, manager Joe Girardi doesn’t want to compromise his starter’s ability to stay rested and ready for the World Series.
Girardi will also play it safe with fellow right-hander Sonny Gray, who dominated in a five-inning performance in Game 4. All other pitchers should be available and ready to go, though the club is hoping for a lengthy outing from veteran starter CC Sabathia. Sabathia is no stranger to the postseason: over eight separate playoff runs, he touts one championship title and a collective 4.24 ERA in 123 innings. He held the Astros scoreless in his Game 3 start, blanking them over six innings on three hits, four walks and five strikeouts for an eventual 8-1 win.
Even without Tanaka or Gray likely to take the mound for Game 7, the Yankees will enter the series finale with history on their side. Per MLB.com, they have a 4-3 road record in Game 7s and are 6-7 in all 13 Game 7 finales to date. The Astros, on the other hand, dropped their first and only Game 7 clincher back in 2004, when the Cardinals capped the NLCS with a 5-2 win in St. Louis. The teams are scheduled to face off for the first-ever Game 7 at Minute Maid Park on Saturday at 8:00 PM ET.