Top 10 Playoff Pitching Performances in MLB History
Top 10 Playoff Pitching Performances in MLB History
There are so many common phrases that people use about winning games in specific sports. In football it is “defense wins you championships.” Winning phrases like these have even been used in movies such as “Fifty percent of the time, it works all the time,” from Ron Burgundy in Anchor Man. Every fan of teams like the Baltimore Ravens or the Pittsburgh Steelers know this phrase. In baseball, there is one phrase that rings true for every series and game: pitching wins you championships.
Throughout MLB history, there have been some outstanding performances on the pitcher’s mound. One memory that I will always remember watching was the great performance by then Florida Marlins ace Josh Beckett against the New York Yankees to win the 2003 World Series. This was one of those games where you knew something special was going to happen and you could not leave your seat even for a second.
While thinking about this game, the inner history teacher in me came out. What were some of the greatest games pitched in MLB postseason history? When I did the research, I was blown away by some of these fantastic performances. Many of these pitching legends are remembered every October in the highlight reels. Others are long forgotten, and I do not understand why. Every one of these performances needs to be remembered and praised for their greatness.
Here are the top 10 pitching performances of all time. Sit back, relax and honor these great pitchers who pulled off some of the greatest games ever in our nation’s pastime.
10. Jim Palmer: Game 2, 1966 World Series
When I was 20-years old, I was in college trying to figure out my life. In the case of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer, he was pitching in the biggest game of his life. Many pitchers do not get the honor of pitching in a World Series game, nor do many pitchers who are 20 get to face one of the legends of the game in their World Series debut, Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Sandy Koufax. Palmer showed everyone that he had what it takes and gave the world a preview of what was to come in what would be a Hall of Fame career. Palmer beat Koufax’s Dodgers 6-0. Palmer’s stats were amazing: nine innings, zero runs, four hits and six strikeouts.
9. Roy Halladay: Game 1, 2010 NLDS
When a Major League team goes out to get an ace for their pitching staff, they expect him to come up big in huge games. If this is the case, then the Philadelphia Phillies got their money's worth when they brought Roy Halladay to their team in 2010. When Halladay got his playoff debut, he did not disappoint. All he did was throw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS. Halladay walked one batter, Jay Bruce, and struck out eight Reds. Not bad for his first playoff start!
8. Tom Glavine: Game 6, 1995 World Series
When your team has Cy Young pitchers like the Atlanta Braves did in the 1990s, you are expected to win multiple World Series championships. However, the only year that this happened was in 1995 against the Cleveland Indians. In Game 6 in Atlanta, with the World Series just one game away, the Braves sent 16-game winner Tom Glavine to the mound. Glavine showed the calmness and brilliance that a Cy Young winner possess. He pitched eight innings of one-hit baseball while walking three and striking out eight Indians. With one swing of the bat by David Justice, Glavine’s excellent pitching performance gave this team of the 1990s their only championship in their amazing run of dominance in the NL.
7. Bob Gibson: Game 1, 1968 World Series
When the World Series comes around, fans all over look forward to watch each team's ace faceoff against each other. In Game 1 of the 1968 World Series, fans could not have asked for more. The Detroit Tigers sent 31-game winner Denny McLain to the mound to face the St. Louis Cardinals ace who had a record 13 shutouts that season with an ERA of 1.12, Bob Gibson. This was a clash of the titans if there ever was one. Gibson was the winner in this game, and he did it in historic fashion. Gibson went nine innings, allowing no runs off five hits and one walk. That wasn't the historic part. While pitching a complete-game shutout in the World Series, Gibson struck out a World Series record 17 Detroit Tigers. This Tigers team didn't just have good hitters, but had some of MLB’s greatest hitters in Al Kaline, Norm Cash and Eddie Mathews. Talk about your statement game in Game 1!
6. Babe Ruth: Game 2, 1916 World Series
One of the legends of American and MLB history is the Great Bambino, The Sultan of Swat, Babe Ruth. Now, this is not a New York Yankees story. It is a tale of the Babe when he was just a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. In the 1916 World Series, The Rex Sox were taking on the Brooklyn Robins (soon to be the Dodgers). In this game that many have named “a double masterpiece”, both pitchers could have won this game with their outstanding performances. Through 13 innings, both pitchers only allowed six hits apiece and just one run each. However, it would be Ruth that would out-duel Brooklyn’s pitcher Sherry Smith. Ruth’s stats: 14 innings pitched, just one run off six hits and three walks, and four strikeouts. The Babe soon went to the hated Yankees and the rest, as they say, is history.
5. Dave McNally: Game 2, 1969 ALCS
In the modern day MLB, many managers would be happy and grateful to get a pitcher to pitch six solid innings in a playoff game. The marathon that is a major league season can be tough on a starting pitcher’s arm. In 1969, Baltimore Orioles pitcher Dave McNally made all other pitchers look lazy after his historic performance. In Game 2 of the 1969 ALCS against the Minnesota Twins, the Orioles won the game 1-0. During this game, McNally not only showed stamina, but dominance all in one game. McNally went the distance and more, pitching 11 innings of three-hit baseball only walking five batters and striking out nine. I think with the way that McNally was dealing that day, he could have pitched even more if called upon!
4. Curt Schilling: Game 6, 2004 ALCS
In every sport, there are stories about people playing injured or sick and coming up big for their team in clutch situations. There is no greater story about overcoming pain and winning when the odds are stacked against you than when the Boston Red Sox’s Curt Schilling pitched in Game 6 of the ALCS in 2004. In Game 1 of this series against the New York Yankees, not only did Schilling get rocked by the Yankees’ hitters, but suffered a terrible injury in the tendon near his ankle. Schilling, overcoming pain and with the Red Sox down 3-2 in the series to the Yankees, pitched one of the most memorable games in playoff history: pitching seven innings and only allowing one run off four hits while striking out four. These numbers are amazing, but the picture that no one watching will ever forget was the image of Schilling’s bloody sock while he was on the mound.
3. Christy Mathewson: 1905 World Series
For many major league players who have a successful postseason, history seems to be very kind to them. Players like Sandy Koufax and even later pitchers like Pedro Martinez are immortalized when it comes to playing in October. New York Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson had hands-down one of the greatest World Series pitching performances ever in not just one, not two, but three games! In the third World Series ever played, Mathewson was the 31-win ace of the Giants and his team was going up against the Philadelphia Athletics. The Giants had five star pitchers in their rotation, but because of Mathewson, they only had to use two of them in the series. The Giants ended up winning this World Series, and Mathewson was stunning in a performance that would have won him the MVP of the Series. However, this award was not given out at this time. He pitched in three games (all 27 innings of those games) and allowed no runs. He only allowed 13 hits while walking just one batter. No pitcher in the history of the game has ever matched this feat, and yet no one talks about it.
2. Jack Morris: Game 7, 1991 World Series
It was a matchup of the seasoned veteran Jack Morris of the Minnesota Twins against the up and coming ace of the Atlanta Braves, John Smoltz. It was Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. Both of these pitchers were on top of their games. Both worked out of jams, but Jack Morris prevailed in the end. Now, one would think that it would be the younger Smoltz who would go far in this game, but Morris pitched an amazing 10 innings, allowing no runs on just seven hits. It’s always nice to be able to pitch that veteran in a clutch Game 7, and Morris did not disappoint.
1. Don Larsen: Game 5, 1956 World Series
Everybody who grew up playing baseball had this dream: throwing a perfect game in the World Series. In 1956, New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen lived that dream. In Game 5 of the World Series, the Yankees’ ace took the mound against the Brooklyn Dodgers and threw the best game ever in postseason history. No one else has thrown a perfect game in the World Series or playoffs except Larsen. The image that we will never forget is the picture of catcher Yogi Berra jumping into Larsen’s arms. In later years when Larsen was asked if he gets tired of talking about this game, Larsen said, “No, why should I?”