On Sunday, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke extended his consecutive streak of scoreless innings to 43 2/3. Greinke’s impressive run started on June 18 and he has yet to slow down. On the year, the left-handed ace has a 1.30 earned run average—of course by far the lowest in baseball, as should be expected when a pitcher hasn’t given up a run in more than a month—and a similarly impressive 117 strikeouts.
But Greinke still has work to do if he wishes to set the record for consecutive innings without allowing a run. Orel Hershiser, also a fellow Dodger, threw 59 consecutive scoreless innings in 1988, which currently sits atop the record books. And fortunately for Greinke, the All-Star Game, where Los Angeles Angels centerfielder Mike Trout took Greinke yard on the first plate appearance of the game, doesn’t count towards his streak.
What makes streaks like Greinke’s even more impressive than the sheer magnitude of the numbers is the amount of pressure that begins to build as one nears a record. Every game that he pitches in until he either gives up a run or surpasses the record will be watched and wrote about by everybody and their brothers in the sports world. It’s the same idea as when players get a hitting streak going—the media starts following streaks so early, the pressure builds only until it breaks, usually well before a record is set.
Maybe Greinke’s different; maybe the perpetual questions and constant coverage will only make him excel more. Assuming he doesn’t have to face Mike Trout again, that is. Throughout baseball’s storied history there has been records broken and re-broken too many times to count, and various streaks that seem like they’re nigh impossible to reach. In honor of Greinke’s charge towards the record books, here are five of baseball’s most impressive streaks.
5. Ted Williams, Consecutive Games Reaching Base
Williams, who played his entire 19-year career for the Boston Red Sox, is most well-known for his ability with his bat. While his .406 batting average during the 1941 season might be more impressive, especially considering it’s still the highest ever seasonal average, he reached a base in 84 consecutive games during the 1949 season. A record he still holds today. Bear in mind this doesn’t mean that he got a hit in 84 straight games, but still, the fact that he either walked, reached on an error, or got a hit in that many games in a row is remarkable. Shockingly, he went on to win the MVP award in 1949, and even less surprisingly, scored a career-high 150 runs. After all, when you’re on base that often you would expect to cross home plate often, too.
4. Eric Gagne, Consecutive Converted Saves
During the early 2000’s, then Dodgers closer Eric Gagne was one of the most dominant closers of the time. He rivaled, if not surpassed, Mariano Riviera for a three-year stretch from 2002-2004. And it just so happened that during this time he successfully converted 84 consecutive saves—that is, successfully closing out a game with his team having a three-run lead or less. While closers typically take a lot of flack when they’re unsuccessful in closing a game because fans expect a player who’s only job is to pitch one inning to do so with ease, Gagne was so good, his streak might have been under appreciated. But it’s notable all the less.
Gagne’s streak wasn’t the only impressive part during this run, either. He also made three All-Star appearances—the lone three of his career—and won a Cy Young award in 2003, a season that saw him finish with 55 saves and a 1.20 earned run average. And while those numbers are all impressive in their own right, the consistency that comes with a three-year stretch of not blowing a save was unprecedented.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates, Consecutive-losing seasons
The only part of this list that isn’t an individual streak, the Pirates string of losing seasons reached an impressive low, albeit probably unfortunate for the Pittsburgh faithful. Prior to finishing above .500 in 2013, Pittsburgh hadn’t had a winning season since 1992, reaching a 20-year streak of losing. During this stretch they came close more than a few times—in 2012 for example when they finished just four games below .500—but a losing season’s a losing season. Fortunately for the Pirates, the perpetual losing gained them a high draft pick more often than not, and as a result of that youth coming up through the farm system, they’re now one of the best team’s in the MLB.
2. Cal Ripken Jr., Games Started
Easily one of the league’s better-known streaks, Ripken Jr. appeared in 2,632 consecutive games. Not only did he show impeccable durability during this stretch—one that started on May 30, 1982 and lasted until 1998—but also consistency. Let’s be honest, the Orioles would’ve benched him had he been ineffective. No, his lowest seasonal batting average he had was .250 in 1990, he appeared in the All-Star game every year during the streak, and won two MVP awards.
This record will be one of the hardest current streaks to top because in this day and age, short-term injuries, along with the occasional day off, are all the more common. That and that fact that Ripken Jr. played until he reached older than 40 years old, which itself is quite uncommon. Either way, just as Gagne’s consistency as a closer was unprecedented, Ripken Jr.’s longevity combined with his successful play easily finds him on this list.
1. Joe DiMaggio, Longest Hit Streak
In 1951, New York Yankees centerfielder Joe DiMaggio consecutively got a hit in 56 games. In baseball’s modern era, the next closest player to come near DiMaggio’s record was Pete Rose in 1978 with 44 consecutive games with a hit. Every year there will be a few hopefuls…the player that gets a hit in 20 consecutive games or maybe even 30. But then the media will relentlessly follow him, and the next thing you know it’s over.
During his streak, DiMaggio had a .408 batting average and tallied 55 RBIs: almost exactly one per game. Whereas Ripken Jr.’s record will probably never be matched because of the relentless longevity involved, DiMaggio’s hit streak reached insurmountable heights because that kind of success at the plate—certainly rivaling Ted Williams’ .406 season average—takes a combination of skill and maybe a little luck.