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A “brief” history of 20-game winners in D.C.: From Walter Johnson to Max Scherzer

Washington Nationals’ right-hander Max Scherzer won his 20th game of the season yesterday in the nation’s capital, joining a long list of D.C.-based 20-game winners.

Miami Marlins v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

[ed. note - “The following is an updated version of a 2012 article on the history of 20-game winning pitchers based in Washington, D.C.”]

The Washington Senators were one of eight charter clubs to play in the first season of the American League as a "major" baseball league in 1901. It was ten seasons into the so-called modern era of the game (1901-present) before the original Senators had a 20-game winner.

Lefty Casey Patten, then 27, came close in 1901, winning 18 games on a Senators team that finished sixth in the eight-team league.

A then-29-year-old Al Orth, (aka Smiling Al or the Curveless Wonder), a Sedalia, Missouri-born right-hander who'd won 20 games for the Philadelphia Athletics in 1901, won 19 games (and hit 18 HRs) for the Senators in 1902.

Righty "Long Tom" Hughes, 26, won 17 and lost 20 for the 1905 Senators.

Five years after Casey Patten had won 18 games as a rookie in 1901, the then-32-year-old veteran posted a 19-16 mark for the 55-95 1906 Senators.

"Long Tom" Hughes came close again in 1908, winning 18 of 31 starts, but it wasn't until the 1910 season that the Senators had their first 20-game winner.

Walter "The Big Train" Johnson, in his fourth major league season, at age 22, was the first Washington, D.C.-based pitcher to win 20 games in a season in 1910 when he went 25-17 with a 1.36 ERA, 1.39 FIP, 76 walks (1.84 BB/9) and 313 Ks (7.61 K/9) in 45 games, 42 starts and 370 IP for the 66-85 Senators, who finished seventh.

“The Big Train” would go on to win 20+ games in each of the next nine seasons as well -- including a career-high 36-win 1913 campaign -- then come back to win 23 and 20, respectively, in the 1924 and 1925 campaigns as he led the Senators to their first and only World Series victory in '24 and the second of three World Series appearances in D.C. baseball history in '25, when the Senators lost the Series to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Belleville, Ilinois-born right-hander Bob Groom, 27, joined Johnson as one of two 20-game winners in the Senators' rotation in 1912.

Between 1913 and 1919, Johnson was alone as the only 20-game winning Senators' starter, but Stan "Covey" Coveleski, a Shamokin, PA-born right-hander who was 35 at time, was the other 20-game winner on the 1925 Senators, going 20-5 in 32 starts.

The 1932 Senators had two 20-game winners. Alvin Floyd "General" Crowder, acquired from the St. Louis Browns along with Heinie Manush in a trade that sent Goose Goslin to Missouri, was 26-13 in his first season in the nation's capital in 1932.

Crowder was part of a rotation that also featured Monte Weaver, aka the "Prof", a 22-year-old right-hander in his first full pro season, who was 22-10 for the Senators in the one and only season he'd win 20+ in the majors.

General Crowder went 24-15 for the 1933 Senators, joined by lefty Earl Whitehill (22-8), who was the last lefty to win more than 20 games for a D.C.-based team before Gio Gonzalez won his 20th game late in the 2012 campaign.

The ‘33 Senators, were the last Washington, D.C.-based team to make a postseason appearance before the Nationals in 2012.

Six seasons after both General Crowder and Earl Whitehill were 20-game winners in ‘33, a 30-year-old Emil John "Dutch" Leonard went 20-8 in the one twenty-win season of his twenty-year career for the Bucky Harris-led 1939 Senators, who finished 65-87, sixth in the American League.

The Senators acquired a then-33-year-old, Evansville, Illinois-born right-hander, Roger Wolff, in a trade that sent Bobo Newsom to Philadelphia in December of 1943 and Wolff went 4-15 for the '44 Senators, but he won twenty games in 1945, finishing the season 20-10 with a 2.12 ERA, a 2.69 FIP, 53 walks (1.91 BB/9) and 108 Ks (3.89 K/9) over 33 games, 29 starts and 250 innings pitched for Ossie Bluege's Senators, who finished just a game-and-a-half behind the World Series-winning Detroit Tigers.

Eight seasons later, in 1953, Newport, Virginia-born right-hander Bob Porterfield, who was acquired by the Senators as one of three pitchers in a June 15, 1951 trade with the Yankees that sent Bob Kuzava to New York, went 22-10 for a Senators team that finished with a .500 record, 76-76, once again under the guidance of Bucky Harris.

After Porterfield's 20+ win season in 1953, it would be 59 years before the nation's capital would see another 20-game winner.

Gio Gonzalez, then 27, won his 20th game in his 31st start as a National following the December 2011 trade that brought the lefty to D.C. from the Oakland A's.

Gonzalez was the tenth pitcher for a D.C.-based team to reach that plateau, which 69-year-old Nationals' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters is, "... the mark of a Cy Young.”

“It's just everything,” Johnson said. “It's bigger than a hitter, for me, hitting .300. He's had just a phenomenal year."

On the year, Gonzalez finished (21-8) with a 2.89 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 76 walks (3.43 BB/9) and 207 Ks (9.35 K/9) in 199 13 IP.

Gonzalez was the first left-hander to win twenty in D.C. since Earl Whitehill in 1933.

Gonzalez credited his teammates and talked to reporters about how important it was to him to win his 20th in front of the crowd in the nation's capital, but the person he looked for after the win was now-former Nationals’ pitching coach Steve McCatty.

"I was looking for 'Cat'," the pitcher told reporters after the game. "Because it's just one of those things that your pitching coach deserves that credit. A guy who's been there, who's helped out and kept me the same person all even keel all year. But there's specific guys that you want to hug and tell them, 'Thank you, so much.'

“I think that the credit goes to our infield completely and our catchers that have been doing great. Kurt Suzuki was a huge pickup for us and he's been calling a great game every time I go out there, just confidence builds more and more."

"It's almost like a dream and I feel like I'm still sleeping in it," Gonzalez said.

The next season, Jordan Zimmermann won 19 games, but fell short of twenty.

Max Scherzer, in his second season in Washington this year, joined the list of D.C.-based twenty-game winners last night.

In his 34th start of the season, Scherzer, who won 21 as a Detroit Tiger in 2013, won his 20th as a National, in a back-and-forth battle with the Miami Marlins.

In his final inning of work in the fifth, Scherzer gave up three runs as the Marlins rallied to tie it up at 5-5, but the Nationals rallied in the bottom of the inning and held on to help their starter win No. 20.

“They tied it up and we were hoping that they didn’t go ahead to give Max a chance for us to score some runs and him get the victory,” Dusty Baker told reporters after what ended up a 10-7 win.

“His last two victories have been when he’s out of the game. That was big. That was big for our offense. That’s a team thing cause everybody wanted Max to get it, everybody was saying, ‘Let’s go guys we’ve got to get this for Max,’ and we got it for him.”

“Everybody had their fingerprints all over the game," Scherzer said, as quoted in the New York Times.

"It's just an absolute team win from everybody, from what they were able to do. It's really special."

“I don’t win 20 without the rest of these guys in the clubhouse,” Scherzer continued, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

“They’ve been grinding the whole year for me. It’s just an unbelievable honor.”

Scherzer finished the second year of his 7-year/$210M deal (20-7) with a 2.96 ERA, a 3.24 FIP, 56 walks (2.21 BB/9) and 284 Ks (11.19 K/9) in 228 13 IP, becoming the first D.C.-based right-hander since 1953 to win twenty games.