3. May 11, 2021, vs Angels
Out of all the starts in McCullers’ career year of 2021, this was arguably his best. A Tuesday night home game in early May doesn’t have huge implications on the way a team’s season will turn out, so it’s not like this was an overly high-stakes game, but it was still some of his best work.
McCullers came out on top in a classic pitcher’s duel with Angels superstar Shohei Ohtani by throwing 8 innings on just 96 pitches, punching out 9 batters, and walking only 2. Highlights included a strikeout of Ohtani when he came up to bat to lead off the 4th inning on a nasty knuckle curve, as well as setting down 11 in a row between the 3rd and 6th inning. The one thing that ruined McCullers’ shutout was a big game-tying home run by Taylor Ward in the top of the 8th, but he got the next two batters to ground out to finish the inning.
Because both starters were dealing in this game, McCullers almost had nothing to show for his brilliant effort, but his offense banded together against the vulnerable Angels bullpen in the bottom of the 8th to pull ahead. Yuli Gurriel’s 2-out, 3-run homer all but sealed the deal, and Ryan Pressly got the save in the 9th to secure a 5-1 Astros win and make McCullers’ effort worth the while.
Another interesting quirk about this game was the fact that it only lasted 2 and a half hours as a result of the great starting pitching. This is the deepest that McCullers pitched into a game in 2021, and is one of the 3 times that he has pitched 8 innings in a single start. He went 7 or more innings and allowed 1 run or fewer in just 2 other starts last season, one of them being a 7-inning shutout effort against the Rays just a couple of weeks before this outing.