40th anniversary: Steve Carlton’s greatest performance

Forty years ago today, one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, in the midst of having one of the greatest seasons of all time, threw the greatest game of his career.

The pitcher was Steve Carlton, a career 300-game winner. In 1972, he would win 27 games for a last-place team that won just 59. He also would lead the league in strikeouts (310), ERA (1.97), starts (41), complete games (30), and innings pitched (346.1). Like I said, it was one of the greatest seasons of all-time.

But the crowning achievement in Carlton’s wondrous year came early, when he took the hill on April 25, 1972 against the San Francisco Giants. The Giants weren’t a great team, but they had some talent in their lineup.

Their starting pitcher was Hall of Famer Juan Marichal. They had experienced veterans like Bobby Bonds, Ken Henderson and Tito Fuentes. They had some youngsters with lengthy futures in front of them named Dave Kingman and Chris Speier. Finally, making his major league debut on the day was a center fielder who would later spend many years backing up Carlton with Philadelphia: Garry Maddox.

They had talent, but Carlton was far too much for them. The first part of the day would be the worst for Carlton. In the first inning, he surrendered a leadoff single to Speier. That was it. Carlton wouldn’t let another man get a hit off of him the rest of the way. Oh, and Speier didn’t get to enjoy his good fortune for very long. Philadelphia catcher Tim McCarver threw Speier out trying to steal moments later. That and two groundouts made up the Giants’ opening frame.

Beginning with the second inning, Carlton pitched like a man possessed. He struck out the side. In the third, he fanned a pair, and allowed a meek groundout to short for the other out. In the fourth inning, he struck out the side again—and he got Speier looking.

In the fifth inning, Kingman led off with a weak pop up to the catcher, and then Carlton struck out the next two batters. Carlton fanned the leadoff man in the sixth before finally walking Chris Arnold, the number eight hitter. Before then, Carlton had fanned 11 of the previous 13 batters. Only one man in that time had even pushed the ball past the pitcher. That’s dominance.

Carlton got the next two batters out easily, including one by the first flyout of the game. Carlton faced 18 batters before he ever needed to use his outfielders.

The last few innings weren’t as overwhelming, but Carlton still managed to retire every batter he faced. He ended the game by fanning the last two batters. The first was the legendary Willie Mays, who entered as a pinch-hitter, and the last batter was the man who got the hit, Speier.

Carlton didn’t get the no-hitter—and in fact he never had one in his career—but he pitched a far better game than most no-hitters. He allowed one hit, one walk, while fanning 14. His Game Score of 98 would be the best of his career. Carlton would have 709 starts in his career, but none topped this one.

Oh, and Carlton also laced a single himself and scored one of Philadelphia’s three runs. Yeah, that was a nice game Steve Carlton had 40 years ago today, on April 25, 1972.


1,000 days since The New York Times reports that sluggers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez are among the 104 names on the 2003 PED list.

4,000 days since Jeff Kent hits his 200th home run.

6,000 days since Don Mattingly announces his retirement.

8,000 days since Bo Jackson hits an inside the park home run off of Bob Welch.

10,000 days since Oakland trades Bill Caudill to the Blue Jays for Dave Collins, Alfredo Griffin and cash.

20,000 days since Mickey Mantle hits for the cycle.


1876 It’s the first shutout in NL history. It’s by the Cubs, in their league debut.

1883 Russ Ford, godfather of the emery ball, is born.

1896 Fred Haney, who mismanaged the late 1950s Milwaukee Braves, is born. (Bill James once said Haney did the worst job by any manager with a good team in those years.)

1899 Honus Wagner hits his only walk-off home run. It’s a solo shot off Jesse Tannehill for a 2-1 Louisville win over Pittsburgh. Next year he’ll join Tannehill as a Pirate.

1901 Wild Opening Day. The Tigers win their first game 14-13 despite entering the bottom of the ninth trailing by 10 runs. Really. Still one of the all-time greatest comebacks.

1904 Cy Young pitches two hitless innings at the end of 2-0 win over the A’s, beginning what turns into a still-record streak for most consecutive hitless innings.

1912 George Cutshaw, long-lasting second baseman, makes his big league debut.

1913 Bill Klem nullifies an apparent game-winning Giants single because Klem was turned around announcing the pinch hitter when the pitch was thrown.

1919 Dickie Kerr, White Sox pitcher who will win two World Series games as a Clean Sox later this year, makes his big league debut.

1924 Al Simmons hits his first homer. It’s off Walter Johnson.

1928 The Browns trade shortstop Wally Gerber to the Red Sox.

1930 Jack Quinn, the eternal spitballer, lodges his 200th career loss: 231-200. Just a few months earlier he set a World Series record that lasted a generation for most strikeouts in one game. Until recently, Quinn was the oldest pitcher to win a game.

1933 Russ Van Atta didn’t have a great career, but he sure had a heck of an opening act. In his debut, he goes 4-for-4 while shutting out Washington. Yanks win 16-0. There is also a nasty brawl in this game. It’s s so bad a police riot squad is called out, and some attack the Yanks.

1933 Lu Blue, veteran AL first baseman, plays in his final game.

1936 Luke Appling suffers through what might have been his worst day at the plate ever: 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. The last is especially impressive, as he fanned only 528 times in 10,242 career PA. In 1936, aside from this game, he whiffed 22 times in 613 plate apearances.

1937 Cliff Melton makes his big league debut by fanning 13 for the Giants. He still loses 3-1 to Boston, but will win 20 times on the season with 142 strikeouts, fourth in the league.

1939 Dizzy Trout, star pitcher for the World War II Tigers, makes his debut in the major leagues. Also debuting that day are fellow 1940s pitchers Ken Raffensberger and Jack Kramer.

1941 Hall of Famer Earl Averill plays his last game.

1944 Tony Mullane, 1880s star pitcher, dies. Ladies Day supposedly began because of him, as his team wanted to cash in on the handsome Mullane’s appeal to female fans.

1948 Larry Doby ties the record by fanning five times in one day.

1953 Richie Ashburn gets three sacrifice hits in one game. In all, he’s 0-for-4 with one walk in a 7-6 extra inning win for the Phillies.

1954 First of three times Hank Aaron gets five hits in a game. Not bad for the kid enjoying his first month in the big leagues.

1954 Ray Murray, Orioles catcher, ejected for praying. He’s upset at an umpire’s call and prays that the Lord gives the ump better eyesight.

1957 Baseball adopts a new rule stating that base runners can’t intentionally interfere with batted balls on the field. The Reds did it twice earlier this week to help the batter advance on the bases.

1959 Tony Phillips, late blooming baseball player, is born.

1961 The A’s sign Bert Campaneris, the first piece of their Mustache Gang puzzle.

1965 Willie Mays hits his 18th and final homer off Warren Spahn, the most he nailed off any one pitcher.

1968 Jim Perry’s 100th win: 100-83 on his career.

1969 It’s the second straight day with Reggie Jackson homering twice in a game.

1969 Jack Hiatt hits well over his head. The catcher, who will end the year hitting .196 with 34 RBI, bangs two homers and seven RBI, including a 13th-inning grand slam in 12-8 Giants win over Houston.

1970 Earl Wilson of the Tigers does something rare: He reaches third base on dropped third strike. After he whiffs, the Twins entire team pulls a Josh Paul and starts trotting off the field, so Detroit’s third base coach tells Wilson to run.

1970 Veteran pitcher Pedro Ramos appears in his final game.

1970 For the second time this week and seventh time in his career, Willie Stargell launches a homer over the right field roof in Forbes Field.

1971 Juan Marichal’s 100th loss. His career record is 206-100. He’s one of only four live ball pitchers to win 200 before losing 100. The others are Lefty Grove, Whitey Ford and Pedro Martinez.

1971 Don Sutton wins, pushing his career record to 86-85. It’ll be over .500 forevermore.

1971 Curt Flood plays his last game, as he abruptly jumps the Senators team and goes to Europe, telegramming his retirement.

1972 Super fielding center fielder Garry Maddox makes his big league debut.

1973 Only time Harmon Killebrew fans with the bases loaded to end a game. Boston 4, Minnesota 3.

1975 Jacque Jones is born.

1976 Rick Monday’s most famous moment: He rescues a U.S. flag from would-be flag burners in Dodger Stadium. The crowd cheers and spontaneously breaks into a rendition of “God Bless America.”

1977 Baltimore fans hang Reggie Jackson in effigy after he beats them in a game with two doubles and a game-winning homer for the Yankees. Making the loss that much harder, Jackson had been an Oriole just last year.

1977 The Reds tie an NL record by scoring 12 runs in the fifth inning en route to a 23-9 stomping of the Braves. George Foster ends the day with seven RBIs.

1980 Montreal’s Larry Parrish hits five homers in a game for the third time in his career.

1982 George Steinbrenner fires Yankees manager Bob Lemon. This ends Lemon’s days as a big league manager.

1986 Padres relief pitcher Craig Lefferts hits a walk-off homer. He’s the last pitcher to do that. He hits it off Greg Minton, who is known for never allowing homers to anyone. It’s the only walk-off homer by a pitcher since the 1960s.

1987 Whitey Herzog’s 1,000th managerial win: 1,000-856.

1987 One day after fanning four times in one game, Eric Davis fans five times in five at bats. It’s a record nine consecutive Ks for a position player.

1987 Yankees star Dave Winfield fans with the bases loaded, ending the game. The Indians win, 2-1.

1987 Bill Bean, who will come out of the closet after retiring, makes his big league debut by getting four hits in one game.

1990 Bill Buckner hits an inside-the-park homer. He’s 41 years old, it’s his only homer of the season, and the last of his career. Someone misplayed a ball but good out there.

1993 Frank Thomas plays his 31st straight game without a homer, his all-time worst drought.

1994 Paul Molitor, age 37 years, eight months, and three days, hits his first career inside-the-park homer. He gets No. 2 the next year. Late bloomer, that Molitor.

1994 Ryne Sandberg, 34 years and seven months old, legs out two triples in a game.

1995 The baseball strike ends as the Dodgers beat Marlins, 8-7.

1997 Ken Griffey Jr. hits three homers in a game for the second time.

1997 Matt Williams hits three homers in a game.

2000 Sammy Sosa plays center field for the last time. He had some speed when he was young.

2000 Several players take today off to protest the feds’ taking of Elian Gonzalez in a pre-dawn raid a few days earlier. On the Marlins: Mike Lowell, Vladimir Nunez, Alex Fernandez, Michael Tejera. On Tampa: Jose Canseco. On the Mets: Cookie Rojas (coach) and Rey Ordonez.

2000 WPA’s favorite Tom Glavine game: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K, in 1-0 win. WPA: 0.783.

2001 Rickey Henderson draws his 2,063rd career walk, passing Babe Ruth for most ever.

2003 Todd Helton gets his 1,000th hit. It took him 844 games.

2003 Richie Sexson bangs out three homers in a game for the second time.

2007 Jake Peavy fans 16 D-backs, including nine in a row at one point, but San Diego loses 3-2.

2008 Royals release Hideo Nomo, ending his major league career.

2009 Albert Pujols reaches 1,000 career RBI in style with his eighth career grand slam and second one of the year.

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Chris J.
Chris J.

Chris W – interesting.  Thanks for the recollections. 

The movement may have thrown the umpire off.  Maybe he thought the pitches were strikes when the broke the plate but had moved well outside by the time they reached the catcher.  Just guessin’ here.


1980 Montreal’s Larry Parrish hits five homers in a game for the third time in his career.

You think I’d have heard about this at some point smile

Chris J.
Chris J.

Frank – good catch.  Heh.


“1980 Montreal’s Larry Parrish hits five homers in a game for the third time in his career.”

I think this is a mistake.  The record for HRs in a game is 4, last tied by Mike Cameron, and I remember Mays did it too.

Chris Waters
Chris Waters

Great job again, Chris!

I was there for this Carlton game, and it seemed like the HP umpire was calling a lot of pitches strikes that seemed to swerve out of the strike zone. Since so few people were in attendance, we moved to just behind the HP, and it sure looked like a lot were balls. Carlton’s pitches were moving a lot, that’s for sure. But, in his 19-strikeout game against the Mets in 1969, he seemed more overpowering to me.
40 years ago! My God!

Andy R
Andy R

Nice story, Chris! That was one awful season for the Giants. Willie McCovey broke his arm in a basepath collision with Johnny Jeter of the Padres, Juan Marichal had back problems most of the year, and Willie Mays finally ran out of gas. As a youngster, I cried when Horace Stoneham traded Mays! IIRC, the Giants lost 28 of their first 34 home games, as attendance nosedived to dangerous levels. Stoneham was losing buckets of money, as he just didn’t know how to promote, and the farm system was dying. Add a colorful World Series champ in Oakland, and it… Read more »