30th anniversary: Steve Carlton’s 300th win

Thirty years ago today, one of baseball’s great milestones was achieved. Longtime Phillies ace Steve Carlton joined the 300-win club, becoming just the 16th member of the club.

Eleven of the members played the heart of their careers in either the 19th century or the Deadball Era. Walter Johnson became the club’s 10th member in 1920, and Pete Alexander followed him four years later, but after that the club damn near shut its doors to new members.

Lefty Grove recorded his 300th—and final—win in 1941, nearly 20 years after Alexander. It was another two-decade gap until anyone else joined. Then, in the early 1960s, first Warren Spahn then Early Wynn became 300-game winners. And there it stood for a long time. Wynn always said he’d be the last member of the 300-win club, and for 20 years, that was true.

In the 1980s, things finally changed. In 1982, longtime spitballer Gaylord Perry finally replaced Wynn as the last 300-game winner, but it was clear that Perry wouldn’t have that designation for long. The 1982 campaign ended with Steve Carlton at 285 wins. Making it to 300 looked like a lock, as Carlton wasn’t showing much signs of age at all.

37 years old or not, Steve Carlton won his fourth Cy Young Award in 1982, a trophy he earned by leading the in NL numerous categories, including strikeouts (286), innings pitched (295.2), shutouts (6), complete games (19), starts (38), and most pertinently, wins (23).

But in 1983, the wins weren’t coming as easily to Carlton. According to ERA+, he was almost exactly as effective in 1983 as 1982 (a 116 mark in 1983 versus 119 the year before), but he wasn’t getting the same level of run support. The 1982 Phillies averaged nearly 4.5 runs per outing for Carlton, but in 1983 it was down to 3.7.

Carlton spent much of the year with his record around .500. As the second week of September ended, he was 12-15 on the year, with 297 wins. He had just four more starts to go all year, so he was going to have to make them count.

Sure enough, Carlton won his Sept. 14 and Sept. 18 outings. Now he was in striking distance of baseball immortality.

Thus began Sept. 23, 1983. Carlton would pitch for the Phillies in St. Louis, the team he’d come up with—and that had traded him away nearly a dozen years before.

The Cardinals were defending world champions but were having a down season, scraping by just under .500. Typifying their off year, facing off against Carlton was pitcher Joaquin Andujar, who sported a 6-15 record on the season.

The Phillies took an early 1-0 lead in the most fitting way possible, an RBI single by Carlton in the second inning. The Phillies expanded it to 2-0 an inning later, but the Cardinals tied it on a two-run homer by outfielder David Green in the bottom of the fourth.

Any tension was short-lived, as the Phillies immediately leapt on Andujar for three runs in the fifth and added another run in the sixth.

From that point on, it was smooth sailing for Carlton. He allowed a few hits here or there but was never under any real pressure. The biggest hit against him was a leadoff triple by Ozzie Smith in the eighth inning. But Carlton responded by fanning the next two batters and then getting revenge on Green by having him ground out to end the inning.

Carlton lasted into the bottom of the ninth, striking out Ken Oberkfell for the final out. Lefty had done it, he’d won No. 300. Soon he’d be joined by generation-mates Tom Seaver, Don Sutton, Phil Niekro, and Nolan Ryan. But this day belonged to Steve Carlton, and that day was 30 years ago today.

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  1. Raymond Wilson said...

    I was always a fan of Steve Carlton – going back to the time when he played for the Cardinals. I grew up in Pekin, Illinois. Years later – when I lived in Minnesota – how delighted I was when Carlton signed on with the Twins. Along with my family – I saw Steve beat the Oakland A’s -9-2 on Aug 8, 1987. It was not only his first and only win as a Twin – but it turned out to be his last win -329 – of his awesome career. I have a tape of Carlton’s 300th win. Great article!!

  2. Keith Karcher said...

    I was a Phillies fan attending Washington University in St. Louis at the time and I listened to Jack Buck call this game on KMOX radio. Carlton did not last into the bottom of the 9th. Al Holland closed. I remember being disappointed that Carlton did not get the chance to complete his 300th victory.

  3. Chris J. said...

    Keith – you’re right! That was stupid of me—I was looking at the B-ref account and everything and missed that.  D’OH!

  4. Matthew said...

    I’m a little surprised that you didn’t mention that Carlton’s September push for 300 coincided with the Phillies getting hot that month to take the division title. They were tied with the Pirates for first when the month started, and there was little to suggest that the Phillies would manage to end the season the way they did.

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