Good thing Steve Carlton refused to speak to reporters about his excellent pitching accomplishments for much of his career. Otherwise we may never hear the end of it.
Carlton belonged to the elite of baseball for more than a decade. He became the first pitcher to win four Cy Young Awards, taking the honor in 1972, ’77, ’80 and ’82. Hundreds of other left-handers appeared in the major leagues during Carlton’s 24-year tenure, but he was the only one to earn the nickname “Left” as if it gave him more legitimacy than any other southpaw.
With Carlton turning 77 on Wednesday, here’s a collection of his top 10 career highlights:
1. A differentiator like no other
June 7th-August. 17, 1972
Carlton held out a winning streak of 15 games during this period of 18 starts. His performance was phenomenal. He allowed 104 hits, walked 39, knocked 140 out, and formed a 1.51 ERA in 155 innings. Opponent batted .192 with six home runs from Carlton, who set up 14 full games and five shutouts. Carlton’s overall record of 27-10 that season was astounding given the Phillies’ 59-97 finish. Traded for right-handed Rick Wise from St. Louis to Philadelphia in late February after a salary contest, Carlton set a record accounting for 46% of the Phils’ victories.
2. Virtually inviolable
15th September 1969
After establishing his slider as his “money” pitch, Carlton set a modern record by collecting 19 strikeouts in a nine innings game. Somehow the New York Mets scored a 4-3 win over the Cardinals and Carlton, which gave Ron Swoboda two runs in the fourth and eighth innings. Otherwise, Carlton was overwhelming. He knocked out the team in the first, fourth and ninth innings and withdrew any Mets starter at least once on strikes. Carlton surpassed the 18 mark shared by Don Wilson, Bob Feller and Sandy Koufax, who accomplished the feat twice.
Carlton’s skills began to erode when he joined the Giants after the Phillies fired him mid-season. But he had enough left to Eric Davis of Cincinnati as his 4,000. Claim strikeout victims. Nolan Ryan was the only other pitcher to hit 4,000K at the time.
4. A nice round number
April 29, 1981
Carlton continued to establish himself among the greats when he turned 3,000. Strikeout recorded. He bullied Montreal’s Tim Wallach to hit the milestone and complete a first inning in which he beat the team in a 6-2 win at the Phillies on the way to a full game. Carlton was the first left-hander and the sixth overall pitcher to reach this level.
5. Take this, cardinals
September 23, 1983
Carlton secured the # 300 career win and again showed the Cardinals what they were missing out on. He hit 12 and went one of eight innings while defeating his former team in a 6-2 decision. As a respectable .201 career hit, Carlton contributed an RBI single in the second inning from St. Louis starter Joaquin Andujar.
Carlton, a first-time voter, was named on 95.6% of the ballots (436 out of 456), one of the highest numbers of all time. In addition to his quartet of Cy Young Awards, he was selected for 10 All-Star Teams and was in the top 10 of the Most Valuable Player Award poll five times.
7. Final kick
October 21, 1980
The Phillies won all of Carlton’s four postseason starts in 1980. He personally took the decision in three of them, including the world rankings victory – a 4-1 win over Kansas City in Game 6. Carlton gave four hits and Kansas City’s lone run on in seven innings.
8. Double-dipping on Dodgers
October 4th and 8th 1983
Carlton won the bookends game in the Phillies’ Best-of-Five National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He held up 7 2/3 innings in a scary 1-0 win in the series opener before delivering a run in six innings when Philadelphia won the game 4 winning goal 7-2.
9. One at a time
Carlton never suggested a no-hitter, though he always seemed a threat. Between those years, Carlton pitched six one-hitters, although the drama usually didn’t develop because Carlton scored a hit relatively early in the game and then closed the opponent. The exception was June 5, 1979, when Houston’s Jeffrey Leonard opened the seventh inning.
10. Last hurray
August 8, 1987
Carlton was pitching for the Minnesota Twins when he notched his 329th and final career win. He threw 8 2/3 innings against the A’s and allowed two runs with seven hits in a 9-2 win. Warren Spahn is the only left-hander with more lifetime wins.