As background for the small number of people who will read this without already knowing the background: When I was 18 years old I invented a pitching statistic called the Maddux. It's a complete game shutout on fewer than 100 pitches. There's all sorts of information on it here, if you're interested.
If I go to a ballgame with run-of-the mill starting pitchers, I'm sort of hoping to see a slugfest. When I look at the schedule to pick a game to go to though, I'll always target the potential pitchers' duel if one is an option. That may have developed due to years of slugfests being the norm, and pitchers' duels feeling rare and exotic. With offense having steadily dropped for a few years now, maybe my tastes will change. For now though, a tremendous pitching performance is still what excites me the most when I'm watching a game.
Corey Kluber gave us a lot of great ones in 2014, but for me one of them stands out comfortably ahead of the others.
By July 30 Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber seemed to be the two best pitchers in the American League, which made their scheduled matchup that night very enticing. If I were local, I most certainly would have headed to Progressive Field and picked up a ticket. Instead I settled in on the couch to watch from my living room.
Most would-be pitching duels fall far short of their potential (such is life), but on this night both guys came out of the gate strong. The first four and a half innings took only an hour, with the Kluber giving up three singles (but immediately wiping two of them out with double-play balls) and Felix tossing a perfect game. Kluber had also thrown only nine balls in those first few innings, leading to the game's lightning pace, and (far more important to me personally) keeping his pitch count low. He was through 5 shutout innings on just 53 pitches.
In the bottom of the 5th the Indians finally gor someone on base, when Carlos Santana led off the inning with a walk. Lonnie Chisenhall doubled and then Nick Swisher hit an infield single to load the bases. David Murphy hit into a fielder's choice at home plate, but Yan Gomes wouldn't let the runners go to waste, and stroked a double to right field, putting the Tribe ahead 2-0 heading into the 6th.
The Mariners didn't know it yet, but they'd already gotten all the base runners they'd have all night.
Kluber got through the 6th with a grounder, and a three-pitch strikeout, and a first-pitch fly ball. He was through 6 shutout innings on just 60 pitches. The Maddux watch was officially on.
Felix walked Michael Brantley, but otherwise made easy work of his half of the 7th. Back came the Klubot...
Lineout. Strikeout. Strikeout. He was through 7 shutout innings on 71 pitches.
The Indians hadn't had a Maddux since Cliff Lee threw one shortly before he was traded in 2009. The Maddux existed then, but no one but me and a couple friends knew about it. More to the point, I hadn't had any way of watching that game. I hadn't been watching when Paul Byrd or Bartolo Colon pitched theirs either. Now here was Kluber, just two innings away, and he was looking better and better.
The Tribe failed to do any further damage in the 7th, and Kluber then got through the top of the 8th using only 6 pitches, with another 3-pitch strikeout and a first-pitch grounder to end the inning. He was through 8 shutout innings on 77 pitches.
At that point he had 22 pitches to get the final three outs (just so long as he didn't give up a run along the way). The three guys he was scheduled to face in the 9th had a combined on-base percentage of something like .289. If ever there were a strong setup for the Maddux, this was it.
The Indians went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning, and I was happy for it, because I just wanted to watch Kluber go for those last three outs.
Kluber got Brad Miller to hit an 0-1 pitch for an easy ground ball to Santana at first base. 79 pitches, two outs to go.
Kluber got James Jones to swing at the first pitch; he hit a weak roller to Chisenhall, who through across the diamond with time to spare. 80 pitches, one out to go.
Dustin Ackley worked his at bat for a while, lasting all the way to the fifth pitch, but then grounding out to Jason Kipnis, and that was it. A complete game shutout on just 85 pitches. Not only a Maddux, but a franchise record for fewest pitches in a shutout.
While Kluber and Felix looked like the class of the American League at that point, Hernandez seemed pretty far ahead, and there was no way of knowing that night's game might very well have made the difference in the Cy Young voting. I wasn't thinking about that at the time. I just knew that my wait was over, and it had been worth it.