Which clutch pitching performance will lead to the next celebration like this?
The biggest problem in writing this story was to try to come up with a definition of "clutch," and decide whether or not it was important to try to use it consistently.
When most people think of "clutch" in relation to a pitcher, they are probably asking themselves "Who would I want to have start Game 7 of the World Series?" For relievers, they would probably ask, "Bases loaded, two outs, bottom of the ninth, the other team's best hitter coming up…who do I most want to see coming in from the bullpen?"
The problem with that definition is that the answers will usually be the best pitchers overall. In other words, it discounts the factor of an otherwise lesser pitcher who has historically elevated his game in stressful situations.
Put another way, are we looking at how well a particular pitcher performs in high-leverage situations, or are we comparing his high-leverage performance to his own performance in less stressful situations?
It's the difference between a self-comparison and a MLB-wide comparison.
Roger Clemens is a good example. Throughout his career he held opposing batters to a .228/.297/.336 hitting stat line in high-leverage situations. In medium leverage, the stat line was .227/.293/.335. In low leverage, .232/.295/.353.
That means Clemens was just a great pitcher, period. There was very little difference in his performance, no matter whether he was dealing with a high-stress or low-stress situation. On the other hand, since he was so good, was there any room for him to raise his game a notch?
And what about "clutch" for a season or two, but not a whole career? Or even an incredible clutch performance in a single game, way above and beyond expectations?
You see the problem.
So, to keep everybody happy, I've included some pitchers from each category in this slideshow—which is presented in no particular order. This is not a ranking.
And at the end, I explain why two all-time greats did not make the cut.
Unfortunately, it's usually the most recent memories that affect our judgments of performance.
Nowhere is that more obvious than with Jonathan Papelbon, the greatest closer in Red Sox history. Over seven seasons he registered 219 regular-season saves, plus seven in the postseason.
During 2011, Papelbon blew only three saves in 34 opportunities, posting a 2.94 ERA and a WHIP of 0.933.
However, as John Abraham of the Boston Globe points out, "Two of those blown saves came in the final nine days of the season and contributed to the team's historic collapse."
Perhaps that memory, the most recent one, is the reason that there was not much uproar from Red Sox Nation when the team did not compete with the free-agent offer from the Phillies this past offseason.
I'm leading off with Pap because he is the epitome of a high-leverage pitcher. In those most important and most stressful situations, he elevates his game significantly.
Against him, this is what hitters have done over his entire career: .204 batting average, .264 on-base percentage, .310 slugging percentage and a .574 OPS. Not bad, right?
But in high-leverage situations, Papelbon bears down even further: Batting average against drops to .199, OBP to .259, slugging to .301 and OPS to .560.
It's hard to believe, but with two outs and runners in scoring position, hitters have no chance. Their stat line is .162/.253/.240, with a paltry OPS of .493.
Papelbon has also been lights out in the postseason. As Abraham notes, "Papelbon dominated in the 2007 postseason, throwing 10.2 scoreless innings over seven appearances and helping the Red Sox to the World Series championship."
In 27 postseason innings he has given up a total of three earned runs—and they all came in one game, Game 3 of the 2009 Division Series against the Angels.
In Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, he shut down the Rockies in the eighth inning and closed out the game with a strikeout, clinching the championship for the Red Sox. In seven postseason series over four years, he has an otherworldly ERA of 1.00 and a WHIP of 0.815. He has struck out 23 of the 100 batters he has faced.
What makes these numbers more impressive is that they were achieved closing in a high-pressure environment (Boston) against the iron of the AL East. His success has resulted in four All-Star appearances.
Pap burst on the scene as a closer in 2006, after Boston had toyed with the idea of putting him in the starting rotation. He finished that year with one of the most dominant seasons ever for a rookie reliever, saving 35 games while fanning 75 batters in 68 innings. Opposing batters hit only .167 against him.
Abraham also reports that Papelbon was the first pitcher in history with 35 or more saves in each of his first five full seasons.
In 2009 Bill Chuck of the Boston Globe reported that Papelbon's 0.930 WHIP through 2008 was the lowest in major league history among pitchers who have thrown at least 200 innings.
Last June, he racked up his 200th career save. Ian Browne of MLB.com noted that Papelbon reached this milestone in the 359 appearances, which was the lowest total in baseball history. It took Mariano Rivera 382 appearances to get his 200th save.
These numbers easily support Jonathan Papelbon's claim to being one of the most clutch pitchers in Red Sox history.
Hurst is one of those pitchers who had an average career, but elevated his game at a very important moment.
Bruce Hurst's 15-year stat line is good but not spectacular: 145 wins, 113 losses; ERA of 3.92, WHIP of 1.315. But in the 1986 World Series, he came up with an otherworldly performance.
Even though Hurst had produced a career-best ERA and WHIP that year (2.99 and 1.256 with 13 wins), he was totally overshadowed by the man who would go on to win the AL Cy Young and MVP Awards—Roger Clemens. However, come playoff time, it was Hurst whose star shone most brightly.
He won his only start against the Angels in the ALCS, and then beat the New York Mets in Games 2 and 5 of the World Series. When the Mets were down to their last strike in Game Six, the stadium scoreboard announced that Hurst had been named the MVP of the World Series.
After the Mets pulled off their amazing comeback in the ill-fated Bill Buckner game, Hurst came back and started Game 7. When he left after six innings the score was tied, 3-3. The Mets went on to win that game and the series, and the unfortunate Hurst became a footnote to history.
For the series, in 23 innings, he had an ERA of 1.96, a WHIP of 1.043, and he pitched a complete game.
“Big” Bill Dinneen is one of only two pitchers to have won three games for the Red Sox in a single World Series—and he did it in the very first "modern" World Series of 1903.
Dinneen falls into the category of an average pitcher (170-177 record over 12 seasons with four different teams) who rose to the occasion and outperformed his record.
Dinneen won more than 20 games each in 1902, 1903 and 1904 for the Boston Americans, who would later become the Red Sox.
In 1902 he pitched 39 complete games and an unbelievable (by today's standards) 371 innings. He followed that up with a magical 1903 season, going 21-13 with an ERA of 2.26 and a WHIP of 1.074. He started 34 games and completed 32, hurling 299 innings.
But everything Dinneen did (like Bruce Hurst in 1986) was in the shadow of one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. In Hurst's case, it was Roger Clemens; for Dinneen, it was the immortal Cy Young.
But Dinneen came out from under that shadow in the first World Series ever played. He pitched four complete games against the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning three, including the deciding eighth game.
He pitched 35 innings in that series, with a 2.05 ERA and a WHIP of 1.057.
It was Dinneen’s first and only appearance in the World Series, but his performance allowed the Boston franchise to raise the first-ever World Series flag.
His 35 innings were one better than Young’s 34. Dinneen also struck out 11 more batters and allowed two fewer hits than Young. He struck out all-time great Honus Wagner to clinch the final game for the Americans.
Bill Dinneen is better known for his 29-year career as an umpire, during which he called 45 games in eight World Series. According to Randy Booth, he umpired five no-hitters, a record he shares with arbiter Bill Klem. Dinneen, however, is the only umpire to have also thrown a no-hitter, which he did for the Red Sox on September 27, 1905, against the Chicago White Sox.
Having Pedro on this list is a no-brainer, especially since he is rated the second-best player (to Ted Williams) ever to don a Red Sox uniform. There is little argument that he is one of the greatest MLB pitchers of all time.
He led his league in ERA five times, posted WHIPs lower than 1.0 five times and ERAs under 2.0 twice. And as Brian MacPherson points out, his ERA+ in 1999 was 243. ("It may well be another century before another pitcher manages to do what Martinez did in 1999," writes Glenn Stout in the book Red Sox Century.)
Stout was way off in his prediction. Martinez shattered that mark the following season, producing an ERA+ of 291— the best ERA+ not only in Red Sox history but also the best ERA+ in MLB history.
However, I'm singling out this one game for a clutch performance.
Martinez had just completed one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time. He was the unanimous Cy Young Award winner, having earned the pitching triple crown (23–4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts). He finished second in a very controversial Most Valuable Player balloting, but that's another story.
Starting the ALDS opener against the powerful Cleveland Indians, Martinez had to leave the game after four shutout innings due to a back problem with the Red Sox up 2–0.
Boston eventually lost that game 3-2, but the greater concern was that the Red Sox ace might be done for the series.
The Red Sox were able to tie the series, but Martínez was still hurting when the fifth and final game rolled around. Neither team's starters could get anyone out, and the Red Sox were on the ropes when Cleveland tied the score 8–8 at the end of the third inning.
Much to the surprise and dismay of the partisan Cleveland crowd, Martinez came in as an emergency reliever and went on to hurl six innings of no-hit baseball. Relying almost completely on his curve, he struck out eight and walked only three to lead the Red Sox to an improbable 12–8 win.
Dick "The Monster" Radatz was a shooting star of the early 1960s, burning brightly for a few short years before fading away.
In his rookie year of 1962 he led the American League in saves with 24, games pitched with 62 and relief wins (nine). He also averaged more than two innings per appearance, with an ERA+ of 184.
For six weeks in midsummer, Radatz was ridiculously dominant. As Gabriel Schechter wrote, "In 20 appearances, he logged 42 1/3 innings, surrendered only two runs, and struck out 50 batters."
On July 12 in Kansas City he pitched five innings in the second game of a twi-night doubleheader that ended close to midnight. The next night, the Red Sox tied the game in the top of the ninth, and in came Radatz. He went on to pitch seven innings of shutout ball for the win, adding up to 12 innings of relief work and two wins in less than 24 hours.
"Let’s see any pitcher, not just a reliever, shoulder a load like that today," wrote Schechter.
Radatz also went nine innings in relief to beat the Yankees. He allowed the tying run to score in the seventh, but then pitched eight shutout innings, striking out nine, before the Red Sox won in the 16th inning.
Schechter reports that Radatz pitched 20 innings against the champs in 1962, giving them only three runs, a stinginess he continue over the next three years.
He followed that up with an even better season in 1963, saving 25 games with a 15-6 record and a 1.97 ERA, becoming the first pitcher in history to have consecutive 20-save seasons.
In two games over one 50-hour span that year, he pitched 14.2 scoreless innings, striking out 21 and giving up only five hits and two walks.
Vincent LeVine of Helium described a game that season against the rival New York Yankees when Radatz came on in the top of the ninth with the bases loaded and nobody out. "He struck out Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Elston Howard, each an American League MVP during their careers, throwing only ten pitches in completing the feat," wrote LeVine.
After that game Mantle referred to Radatz as "that monster," and the nickname stuck. LeVine points out that Radatz faced Mantle 66 times in his career, striking him out 47 times. Yankee manager Ralph Houk later said of '62 and '63, "For two seasons, I've never seen a better pitcher".
Despite Boston's seventh-place finish, Radatz came in fifth in MVP voting.
The following year Radatz struck out 181 batters in 157 innings, setting the all-time record for most strikeouts by a relief pitcher in a single season. Given the way bullpens are managed today, it is unlikely that anyone will ever exceed that mark.
During those three seasons Radatz had a WHIP that ranged from 1.025 to 1.096, a K/9 ratio between 10.4 and 11.0, and ERAs between 1.97 and 2.29.
Jim Murray probably gave the best analogy of Radatz during those three years when he wrote, "Dick Radatz brings one weapon - a fastball. It's like saying all a country brings to a war is an atom bomb."
Sadly, the Red Sox violated that famous principle of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Concerned by that one-pitch arsenal, none other than Ted Williams encouraged him to develop a sinker.
In a story published in the 1979 Red Sox scorebook, Radatz described how he changed his mechanics to incorporate the new pitch. Somehow he lost the edge on his fastball, which he was unable to regain. He was ineffective going forward, and within a few years he was out of baseball.
Curt Schilling is one of those great pitchers whose performance in high-leverage situations throughout his career was actually poorer than his results in medium- and low-leverage spots.
For his overall career, hitters managed a .243./.286/.387 stat line with an OPS of .673. However, in the most stressful situations, his numbers went up to .253/.302/.399 and his OPS rose to .701.
There is one huge exception, however, to those stats. In postseason games, Schilling was money.
Fellow B/R writer Jeffrey Beckman observed, "In 19 career postseason starts, Curt Schilling allowed two runs or fewer during 15 of them. None, however, were as clutch as his 'Bloody Sock Game.' "
In one of the gutsiest pitching performances of all time, Schilling started Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS with a torn tendon sheath in his right ankle, which Red Sox team doctors had sutured in place in an unprecedented procedure.
Schilling had injured his ankle in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Angels. He tried to come back in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Yankees but was ineffective, surrendering six runs in three innings. The Red Sox eventually went down to the Yankees, 3-0 in games. It looked as if Schilling would have the offseason to heal.
After David Ortiz (speaking of clutch) sparked the Red Sox to two victories, however, a crucial Game 6 loomed. Schilling and Red Sox doctors agreed on a never-before-attempted operation that sutured the skin to ligament and deep connective tissue next to the bone. The plan was to create a wall of tissue to isolate the damaged tendon sheath. The hope was that it would prevent the tendon from disrupting Schilling's pitching mechanics long enough to get him through at least five innings.
In all, Schilling gutted his way through seven strong innings, allowing only a Bernie Williams solo home run. By the end of his performance, Schilling admitted to total exhaustion, and the next day photos of his blood-soaked white sock appeared in newspapers across the nation.
His heroics forced a Game 7, and definitely took the air out of the Yankees' balloon.
Game Six of the 1975 World Series is generally considered to be one of the greatest baseball games ever played.
In fact, the game was ranked Number 1 in MLB Network's 20 Greatest Games.
While the Carlton Fisk "wave it fair" 12th inning home run is what people remember most about that game, let's not forget that it was Bernie Carbo's, two-strike, two-out, three-run homer to straightaway center field that tied the score 6-6 in the bottom of the eighth.
After the Red Sox came back from the dead, reliever Dick Drago stepped to the mound. He had led the team in saves that year, and had converted eight in the month of September alone.
For his career, Drago's high-leverage numbers were about the same as his overall stats. In 1975, however, he was one of the league leaders in that differential.
For the year he allowed opposing batters a stat line of .247/.321/.362 with an OPS of .683. In the most stressful and important situations, however, Drago dominated hitters. They managed only a .215 batting average off him, with an OBP of .291 and a slugging percentage of .323. His OPS against was .614, a whopping 69 points lower.
During the ALCS against the powerful defending AL Champion Oakland As, Drago had saved two of the three Red Sox victories. He was described in one account as "a pure power fastball pitcher who thrived in stressful situations".
So, he came to the mound in the top of the ninth in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, with the daunting task of facing the 3-4-5 hitters in the Reds lineup: Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez.
He mowed the three future Hall of Famers down in order; none of them got the ball out of the infield.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox loaded the bases with none out, but failed to score. After that excruciating near-win, Drago went back out and gave up a single to Davey Concepcion, but retired George Foster, Cesar Geronimo and Dave Driessen.
After hitting Pete Rose with a pitch to start the 11th, Drago got a force out on a bunt by Ken Griffey. Dwight Evans then made a spectacular catch on Joe Morgan's drive to right, which the Red Sox turned into a double play.
Rick Wise came on to pitch the 12th inning, and was the eventual game-winner when Fisk hit his famous home run to end the game.
However, had Drago not kept the Reds in check for those three innings, Fisk would never have gotten to bat in the 12th.
Drago came back again in Game 7 and was pitching well when manager Darrell Johnson decided to remove him for a pinch-hitter and take his chances with untried rookie Jim Burton.
The Red Sox lost, and many still question Johnson's move.
B/R Senior Writer Todd Civin described "the relative anonymity that Drago enjoyed in Boston despite being one of the teams unsung heroes."
He was the closer on a Boston team that included Yaz, Jim Rice, Luis Tiant, Fred Lynn, Dwight Evans and Carlton Fisk. "It is no wonder that Drago flew under the radar during his time in Boston," Civin concludes.
Yet, as Civin and others have pointed out, "Without the pitching of Drago during the Red Sox World Series loss in '75 to the Big Red Machine, baseball would have been robbed of what is arguably the greatest World Series in baseball history, most notably Carlton Fisks heroics in the 12th inning of Game Six."
When the 1967 season started, there were no expectations for the Boston Red Sox. The team had suffered through eight losing seasons in a row, and were expected to finish in the American League cellar once again. In 1965, the Red Sox had been a 100-loss team.
With little star power to speak of other than team captain Carl Yastrzemski, only 8,324 fans were on hand for Opening Day
That changed throughout the summer, however, as the overachieving Red Sox prevailed in one of the most exciting finishes in baseball history, as three teams (Boston, Detroit and Minnesota) all had a chance to win the pennant up to the final game.
The Red Sox shocked New England and the rest of the baseball world by winning the pennant and reaching the World Series for the first time since 1946.
Jim Lonborg was a virtual unknown prior to 1967. He had gone 10-10 as a starter and reliever the previous year, but had shown promise with a 3.86 ERA on a losing team.
He came out of the box strong and was 11-3 at the break, earning his first All-Star appearance. By season's end he had won 22 games in a league-leading 39 starts, and pitched 15 complete games. He posted a WHIP 1.138 and an ERA of 3.16. In high-leverage situations, batters managed only a .228 batting average and an OBP of .298.
He struck out 246 batters to lead the league. Interestingly enough, he also led the league by hitting 19 batters. And don't try to tell me those stats aren't connected; batters dug in against "Gentleman Jim" at their own risk.
He won the AL Cy Young Award for 1967, becoming the first Red Sox pitcher ever to do so.
Carl Yastrzemski’s triple-crown season and Lonborg's pitching fulfilled the "Impossible Dream," and the Red Sox went on to face the heavily-favored St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
After pitching in the regular-season finale that won the pennant for the Red Sox, Lonborg didn’t pitch until Game 2. He threw a one-hit, complete-game shutout and followed up that performance with a three-hit, complete-game victory in Game 5. He gave up only one run in those two games.
Lonborg returned to pitch In Game 7 on just two days' rest, but he was out of gas. The powerful Cardinal lineup finally reached him for seven runs, while Bob Gibson shut down the Red Sox.
To give you an idea of how he dominated in his first two WS starts, consider the fact that his ERA for the series was 2.63, even with the seven runs allowed in the finale. His WHIP, also with the finale included, was an astounding 0.667.
That winter, Lonborg was involved in a skiing accident and never returned to the dominant form of 1967.
I'm not going to rehash the whole Curse of the Bambino thing, but I would like to point out that in his four years as a Red Sox pitcher, Ruth compiled a 2.19 ERA and an ERA+ of 125.
In 1916 he went 23-12, and led the league with 40 starts, nine shutouts and an ERA of 1.75. The following year he led the league with 35 complete games out of 38 starts, posting a 2.01 ERA and a 24-13 record.
To this day his career ERA ranks fifth in franchise history, as does his winning percentage of .659.
At the age of 21, Ruth started Game 2 of the 1916 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Fellow B/R writer Jeffrey Beckmann reminds us that Ruth allowed a first-inning, inside-the-park home run before tossing 13.1 straight shutout innings. He allowed only six hits, and the Red Sox eventually won both that game and the series.
Ruth also starred on the mound in the 1918 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. He threw a complete-game shutout in Game 1, and came back to win Game 4 as well, helping the Red Sox win their second championship in three years. During those two World Series, Ruth won all three of his starts, with two complete games. His postseason ERA was a minuscule 0.87. and his WHIP was 0.935. He also tossed 29.2 consecutive scoreless innings, a record which stood until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961.
Lefty Mel Parnell, who pitched for the Red Sox from 1947 through 1956, died this past week at the age of 89 at his home in New Orleans.
He is another one of those pitchers who bettered his career averages by a good margin in high-leverage situations. (Details below.)
Parnell finished his career ranked second all time in wins by a Red Sox pitcher with 123. (He now ranks fourth, having been passed by Roger Clemens and Tim Wakefield.) Those 123 victories rank him first all time for a pitcher who played only for the Red Sox during his career. He pitched 113 complete games and had 20 shutouts. He also still holds the club career mark for left-handed pitchers in wins, starts and innings pitched. His 71-30 record at Fenway Park is the third-highest career winning percentage all time for a left-hander in Fenway Park (minimum of 25 decisions).
He pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox in his final season—the first for the Red Sox since 1923. (It would be 52 years before any Red Sox lefty hurled another no-hitter: Jon Lester in 2008.)
For the 10-year period from 1947 to 1956, Mel Parnell was one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball. According to HighHeatStats, he ranks eighth overall in ERA+, 10th in WAR and winning percentage, and third in lowest HR/9 for the period. If you narrow that range to the five years from 1948 to 1953, he is in the top four in every category, and is first in HR/9.
According to the Boston Herald, from 1948 to 1951 Parnell's ERA+ of 143 ranks first in the MLB among all pitchers with at least 500 innings over that period. (ERA+ compares the pitcher’s ERA to the league-average ERA and also corrects for the degree of difficulty of the ballpark in which he pitched).
In other ways, he defied statistics. He is one of the very few pitchers who achieved such success even though he walked more batters than he struck out in his career. His 125 career ERA+ is the best among all pitchers since 1901 with at least 1,000 innings pitched who had more walks than strikeouts.
His high WHIP was balanced by the fact that he kept the ball low and in on the batter's hands. (According to Bruce Weber of the New York Times, Parnell's nickname "Dusty" came from the number of pitches he threw in the dirt, and the number of batters who pounded his pitches into the ground.)
He also gave up very few home runs, averaging about one every two games for his career.
Parnell's greatest season came in 1949, when he went 25-7 with 27 complete games, an ERA of 2.77 and a HR/9 rate of 0.2, leading the league in all four categories. He also hurled five shutouts and was the AL starting pitcher in the All-Star Game.
As some purists will be quick to point out, however, he faltered in what was perhaps the most important game of his career. With two games left to play in New York, the Red Sox led the Yankees by one game. Parnell was unable to hold a 4-0 lead, and the Red Sox eventually lost, 5-4.
Looking more deeply into the record, however, it is clear that Red Sox manager Joe McCarthy overworked Ellis Kinder and Parnell, the two pitchers he trusted, down the stretch. Parnell pitched five times with only two days' rest. In September, Parnell appeared in 10 games, starting seven and pitching 59 innings.
In the final, deciding game McCarthy pinch hit for Ellis Kinder in a 1-0 game, and brought Parnell back on zero days rest. He pitched his ace lefty for the fourth time in six games, and the exhausted Parnell had nothing left. The Yankees eventually won that game 5-3.
I don't blame Parnell for those failures; I blame McCarthy. The stats will bear out the fact that Parnell was a clutch pitcher over the greater part of his Red Sox career.
As mentioned at the top, Mel Parnell bore down in pressure situations throughout his career. In clutch situations, hitters batted 17 points lower, reached base less often (,315 vs, .342) and had a lower slugging percentage (.334 vs. .342). Perhaps most importantly, his OPS against dropped from .725 to .649 when the game was on the line.
During his prime, he also endeared himself to Red Sox fans by being one of the greatest Yankee killers in Boston's baseball history. During what was arguably the greatest period in Bronx Bombers history, the Yanks won five straight World Series from 1949 to 1953 and steamrollered most other pitchers. During those five years, Parnell beat the Yankees 16 times, including a 5-0 mark in 1953.
Even though Parnell had 12 wins at the break that year, Yankees manager Casey Stengel left him off the All-Star team. Parnell had shut out the Yankees twice in the two weeks before the All-Star Game, then twice more afterwards—twice at Fenway, two at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees scored only three earned runs off him in 42 innings. Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston.com writes that "He was the first pitcher to blank the Yankees four times in a season since Walter Johnson did so in 1908, long before they had become the Bronx Bombers."
Edes recounts that Ted Williams thought Parnell could have won more than 200 games had not a series of injuries (knee, wrist and elbow) limited him to a only 12 wins and 53 starts in the last three seasons of his career, 1954 to 1956. Parnell, a good hitting pitcher, had his arm broken when he was hit by a pitch. He underwent elbow surgery in the spring of 1957, and asked to be placed on the voluntary retirement list that June
2007 World Series Game One
Controversy tends to swirl around Josh Beckett, but his career stats show that he produces in big games, especially in the postseason.
Take away the one stinker he threw against the Rays in the ALCS, giving up 10 runs in an eventual Red Sox victory, and his career postseason ERA is well under 3.00. He is 7-3 in the postseason, and one of those losses was in his very first NLDS start against the Giants in 2003 in which he gave up only one run in seven innings.
In the 2003 World Series against the New York Yankees, Beckett took the Game 3 loss in spite of giving up only three hits in 7.1 innings.
His Game 6 performance at Yankee Stadium cemented his reputation as clutch, big-game hurler. Beckett threw a five-hit, complete-game shutout, winning the World Series for the underdog Marlins.
For the Red Sox, Beckett is 5-1 in the postseason, with his only loss coming in the 2009 ALDS to the Angels.
In 2007 he shut out the Angels in his one ALDS start, and was named the ALCS MVP after winning two games against the Indians and posting a 1.93 ERA in the process.
He went on to win Game 1 of the World Series, striking out nine batters, including the first four he faced, en route to his fourth win of the 2007 postseason. In all, he struck out 35 batters in 30 innings.
Granted, he fared less well in 2008 and 2009, but for clutch, big-game pitching, that 2007 performance was spectacular.
After a stint in the minor leagues that year, the Red Sox signed Tiant, and he went 1-7. But starting in 1972 at the age of 31, Tiant became one of the most beloved pitchers in Red Sox history, winning an average of 17 games a year from 1972-78. The cigar-smoking teddy bear of a right-hander quickly developed a reputation as one of the game's top clutch pitchers.
"If a man put a gun to my head," said former Red Sox manager Darrell Johnson, "and said I'm going to pull the trigger if you lose this game, I'd want Luis Tiant to pitch that game."
Johnson and Tiant led the Red Sox to the postseason in 1975 for the first time in eight seasons, with Tiant pitching a three-hitter in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against Oakland. Boston swept that series in three games, then squared off against the Reds in the World Series.
Tiant threw a five-hit shutout in Game 1, then threw an incredible 163 pitches to win Game 4 by a score of 5-4. After three days of rain after Game 5, Tiant started Game 6—a contest that would become legendary after Boston's Carlton Fisk homered in the 12th inning to force Game 7. Tiant gutted his way through seven innings that night, allowing six runs.
The next night, Cincinnati won Game 7 to capture the World Series. Tiant's status as a Boston hero, however, was secure.
"There was no extra pressure in big games," Tiant said. "I enjoyed pitching in big games, and I never worried too much about it."
The funny thing about El Tiante's 1975 season—he won 18 games to go along with a 4.13 ERA and struck out 142—is that it wasn't his best season in a Red Sox uniform. It wasn't his second-best, either—or his third-best. It probably wasn't his fourth-best, either.
That's what lands the Cuban with the spinning-top pitching motion so high on this list. He's best known for his part in the run to the pennant in 1975, but he wasn't a bolt of lightning like Jim Lonborg in 1967. Instead, after working his way back from injury, he blossomed into the best Red Sox pitcher of the decade.
Tiant already had won 21 games in 1968 with the Indians, but a sore shoulder in 1969 and a fracture in his shoulder blade in 1970 threw his career into a tailspin. He lost 20 games in 1969 and was traded to Minnesota, released by Minnesota and released by Atlanta before the Red Sox signed him to a deal. He was 30 years old and on the same career track as a guy named Al Mamaux.
After extensive work on his leg strength to ease the burden on his arms, though, Tiant began to re-emerge as a star. He began the 1972 season pitching mostly out of the bullpen, but a string of four straight shutouts from Aug. 19 to Sept. 6 landed him in the starting rotation for good. From Aug. 19 on, in fact, he went 9-2 with a 0.96 ERA as the Red Sox climbed into first place and stayed there for much of September. By the end of the year, he'd done enough to earn himself a first-place vote in the Cy Young race and even a little MVP consideration.
A year later, he went 20-13 with a 3.34 ERA. A year after that, in 1974, he went 22-13 with a 2.92 ERA in a remarkable 311.1 innings pitched. (No other Red Sox pitcher has thrown 300 innings in a season since World War II.)
In one June game, in fact, he went the distance in a 15-inning loss to the Angels, surrendering just three runs through 14 innings before Denny Doyle doubled home Mickey Rivers in the bottom of the 15th. Five days later, he went the distance in a 10-inning win over the A's, surrendering only an eighth-inning home run in a 2-1 win.
With so much firepower coming up through the system, the Red Sox needed themselves a horse. They couldn't have found one who was much better—and that's why, in 1975, it all came together.
Only two men can say they’ve ever won three World Series games in the same postseason for the Red Sox: Bill Dinneen and “Smoky” Joe Wood.
From 1909 to 1915, Wood gave the immortal Walter Johnson a run for his money as the best pitcher in all of baseball. In a highly-publicized and pressure-packed showdown in Sept. of 1912, Wood bested the "Big Train," 1-0. (See below.)
The nickname "Smoky Joe" resulted from his blazing fastball. Johnson reportedly said, "Can I throw harder than Joe Wood? Listen, my friend, there's no man alive can throw harder than Smoky Joe Wood!"
Wood showed future promise when he posted an ERA of 1.69 in 1910. He came back to win 23 games in 1911, one of which was a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns. He compiled an ERA of 2.02 and struck out 231 batters in 275.2 innings, leading the league in K/9.
In the Red Sox' pennant-winning season of 1912, he won 34 games while losing only five, with an ERA of 1.91, 258 strikeouts, a 1.014 WHIP and an adjusted ERA+ of 172. That year he also tied Walter Johnson's record for consecutive victories with 16.
He is one of only 13 pitchers since 1900 who won 30 or more games in a season.
In what Sean Kirst of the Syracuse Post-Standard calls "perhaps the most anticipated game of the pre-World War II era", Wood faced off against Walter Johnson.
Clark Griffith, the Washington Senators' owner, even called Wood out in the papers: "We will consider him a coward if he doesn't pitch against Johnson." So many fans wanted to watch the two aces pitch against each other that they were permitted to line up along the Fenway Park infield, pressed up almost against the foul lines.
"I never saw so many people in one place in my life," Wood said later.
The two aces traded five shutout innings before the Red Sox finally scored in the sixth. Tris Speaker hammered a ground-rule double into the crowd with two outs, and came home on a bloop to right by Duffy Lewis. Meanwhile, Wood gave up only two hits and the Red Sox won the nail-biter, 1-0.
Wood's clutch pitching continued in the World Series against the New York Giants. He hurled complete game victories in Games 1 and 4.
After starting (and losing) Game 7 the previous day, Wood came in to the deciding Game 8 (Game 2 had ended in a tie) in relief of Red Sox starter Hugh Bedient after Boston tied the score 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh against future Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson. Wood matched Mathewson through a scoreless eighth and ninth, then gave up a run in the top of the 10th.
In the bottom of the inning, however, Fred Snodgrass dropped a fly ball which led to a two-run Red Sox rally and a World Series victory.
This was Wood's third win in the series; he also struck out 11 batters in Game 1, becoming the first pitcher to record double-digit strikeouts in a World Series game.
Kirst writes, "Wood's sensational 1912 season should have been just the first in a long line of sensational seasons." But a series of injuries followed, limiting him to just 18 starts in 1913 and 14 starts in 1914.
He came back in 1915, posting a 15-5 record with a 1.49 ERA to lead the league. However, he was relegated to spot-starting duty due to his still-ailing pitching shoulder, and he did not see action in the 1915 World Series.
After that season, believing he was fully healed, he wanted to be paid at a level commensurate with ace status. Red Sox owner Joseph Lannin balked, so Wood sat out the 1916 season
He eventually returned late in 1917, having signed a deal with Cleveland, joining his former teammate Tris Speaker. Wood re-injured his shoulder, however, and was forced to reinvent himself as an outfielder.
He actually did quite well, finishing in the top 10 in the AL in RBI in 1918 and 1922. In 1918 he also finished in the top 10 in home runs, doubles, batting average and total bases. In 1921, he batted .366. He won another World Series with Cleveland in 1920.
According to Bob Wright of BaseballHistoryPodcast, authors Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig described what they called "the Smoky Joe Wood Syndrome" in their 1981 book, The 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time. They argued for a way to properly recognize players of truly exceptional talent whose careers were cut short by injury, thus preventing them from compiling the cumulative career statistics that would quantitatively rank him with the all-time greats. They included Wood on their "100 greatest" list.
Despite his up and down career, Derek Lowe makes this list because of one amazing feat: He was the winning pitcher in all three series-clinching games en route to the Red Sox' historic 2004 World Series win.
Game 3 of the ALDS against the Anaheim Angels was tied going into extra innings. Lowe came on in relief, pitching a scoreless 10th inning, and became the winning pitcher when David Ortiz ended the game and the series with a two-out, two-run walk-off homer into the Monster Seats off Jarrod Washburn.
Lowe got an emergency start in Game 4 of the ALCS against the Yankees due to the depletion of the Boston rotation (and bullpen) in the first three games. He gave up only three runs in his 5.1 innings of work in the game the Red Sox tied in the ninth against Mariano Rivera, then won in the 12th on another Ortiz walk-off homer.
Lowe was called upon again to start the deciding Game 7 on only two days' rest. He pitched the pressure game of his life, giving up only only one run and one hit in his six innings of work en route to the win.
He finished off his incredible postseason trifecta by starting and winning Game 4 of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Lowe allowed only three hits in seven scoreless innings as the Red Sox took the clincher, 3-0.
That would be his last game in a Red Sox uniform.
The most amazing thing about this story is that Lowe had a horrible regular season. There was absolutely nothing to suggest that he had the ability to raise his game that much when the stakes were so high.
He battled to an unimpressive 15-12 record with a 5.42 ERA, while Red Sox Nation and the media questioned his mental toughness. In stressful, important situations throughout the year, Lowe had been terrible: batters had hit .319 against him, slugged .496 and had an .871 OPS.
With two outs and runners in scoring position, batters had tattooed him to the tune of a .297/.397/.446/ stat line with an .842 OPS.
He was even left out of the 2004 post-season starting rotation, and was put back in only because there was no one else left to pitch.
Sometimes stats do lie—or, at the very least, they don't tell the whole story.
In the postseason he posted a 1.89 ERA and a WHIP of 0.733. He gave up zero runs in three of his four appearances.
"Lowe's ability to bounce back from the lowest of lows was never more apparent," wrote Tim Daloiso.
"Known for his devastating sinker and astounding GB/FB ratio, Lowe both excelled and fell from grace on the mound in Boston as both a top tier closer and top of the rotation starter over his eight- year career as a Red Sox," Daloiso continued.
Lowe came to the Red Sox with Jason Varitek in the famous (or infamous, if you're a Seattle fan) trade for Heathcliff Slocumb in 1997. The Red Sox converted him to a reliever, and he began to stand out as one of the better setup men in baseball.
In 1999 he took over as the Red Sox closer, and the following year he made the All-Star game, ending up with 42 saves and a 2.56 ERA.
In 2001, however, he lost his feel for the relief job. He bounced back when the Red Sox moved him to the rotation in 2002. In one of his first starts he no-hit the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Fenway Park, and earned the start in the All-Star Game. Lowe went 21-8 with a 2.58 ERA in 32 starts, and even finished third in the Cy Young race to winner Barry Zito and teammate Pedro Martinez.
Over the course of his admittedly bumpy career with Boston, Lowe ranks fifth in games pitched with 384. He ranks sixth on the all-time Red Sox saves list with 85. He ranks ninth (tied with Jon Lester) in adjusted ERA+, and is in the top 10 in franchise history in a number of other Sabermetric pitching categories.
Keith Foulke celebrates the last out of the 2004 World Series.
Not long after giving up the game-winning double to David Ortiz in Game 4 of the 2003 ALDS, the Oakland Athletics closer (who had led the league in saves and games finished) signed a free-agent contract with the Red Sox.
He did well, saving 32 games in 39 opportunities while racking up 79 strikeouts and a 2.17 ERA across 83 innings. With two outs and runners in scoring positions, batter hit only .190 against him, with a .261 OBP and .333 slugging percentage. In all high-leverage situations, he was equally stingy, allowing a .205 batting average against, .270 OBP and a .377 slugging percentage.
The 2004 postseason represented one of the highest-leverage situations in Red Sox history, and Foulke was up to the challenge. He appeared in 11 of the 14 postseason games: two against the Angels in the ALDS, five against the Yankees in that memorable ALCS and all four World Series games against the Cardinals.
Foulke threw 257 pitches and allowed only seven hits, striking out 19 in 14 innings. During the entire postseason he allowed only one earned run.
His stats for the crucial ALCS were impressive: no runs and only one hit allowed in six innings, six strikeouts and one save. Even more impressive were the combined 100 pitches he threw on consecutive nights across Games 4 through 6.
"I had not thrown that many pitches in that short of a time," said Foulke. "During the regular season, the staff really tries to prevent you from pitching that much. But during the playoffs when you're down to your last lifer, you've got to do whatever is necessary."
He closed out every game of the World Series, earning the victory in Game 1 and a save in Game 4. At the end of the clincher, Foulke induced Edgar Rentería to hit a one-hopper back to him, which he flipped to first to end the Curse of the Bambino. (In 2004, he completed a fifth straight season without committing an error, handling 71 total chances in 307 games.)
As he fielded the ball, Fox commentator Joe Buck called: "Back to Foulke. Red Sox fans have longed to hear it: The Boston Red Sox are World Champions!"
Cormac Eklof wrote, "At the time many in the media (who were about to drop verbal napalm all over him for the next two years) believed he should have been named the World Series MVP over Manny Ramirez."
"I will never, ever forget the 2004 playoff run Keith Foulke had. From his uplifting strike out of Tony Clark with the Sox in big, big trouble against the Yankees, to his absolute abuse of a totally over matched Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen in the World Series proper, Foulke had an entirely sensational 2004 playoffs."
On Oct. 31, 2004 Jim McBride of the Boston Globe wrote, "It's unlikely Foulke…will have to pick up a check in town for quite a while."
Fame is fleeting, however. Foulke never pitched that well again, succumbing to knee, arm and back injuries and eventually losing the closer job to Jonathan Papelbon.
If he had left Boston in 2004 he would have been remembered as one of the city's greatest sports heroes. A problematic personal life, combined with his inability to deal with harsh criticism from Red Sox Nation forced Foulke out of Boston.
McBride concluded, "[Foulke] left town for the Cleveland Indians with the majority of the Boston media and a sadly large proportion of Boston's fans only too happy to show him the way out."
Nevertheless, his dominant 2004 postseason certainly qualifies him for inclusion in this list of Red Sox clutch pitchers.
It’s really too bad that Cy Young was 33 years old when he began playing for the Red Sox in 1901. Coming off an unglamorous 19-19 season with the St. Louis Browns, he jumped to the brand-new American League franchise in Boston.
By the time he arrived, he had already thrown an incredible 418 complete games (which would have put him 16th all time had he quit right then). He ended his career with 815 starts and 749 complete games, both major league records. He pitched an unbelievable total of 7,356 innings in his career, 2,728.1 of them for the Red Sox—enough for third all time, behind Tim Wakefield and Roger Clemens, even though Young pitched only eight seasons for Boston.
He had also won 36, 35 and 34 games for Cleveland between 1892 and 1895. During his first three years with the Red Sox, he went 33-10, 32-11 and 28-9 in 1903.
In that 1903 season he threw 34 complete games and seven shutouts with a total of 341.2 innings to lead the league in all three categories. He walked only one batter every nine innings, and posted an ERA of 2.08 with a WHIP of 0.969. He even relieved five times and even earned two saves.
His efforts that year were instrumental in getting the Red Sox to the first modern-day World Series. At age 37, he won two games, pitching 34 innings. And in the World Series, he turned in a 1.85 ERA; he struck out 17 and walked just four. According to Brian MacPherson, his best effort came in Game 5, when he allowed only two unearned runs in nine innings. On two days' rest he came back for Game 7 and threw another complete game, allowing three runs, to earn his second win of the series.
This marked Young’s only postseason appearance during his great career.
With 192 wins in a Red Sox uniform, he's tied with Roger Clemens for the most in franchise history. His ERA of 2.00 is second only to that of "Smokey Joe" Wood, and no Red Sox hurler has a better career WHIP: 0.970.
I struggled with this one.
No, not because he was often an unpleasant human being, but because of my definition of "clutch" on the first slide.
(The unpleasant bit: According to Brian MacPherson, "When kids approached him with scorecards to autograph, he often tore up the scorecards and threw them in the kids' faces.")
How can I ignore one of the greatest pitchers of all time, who won his 300th game in a Red Sox uniform, and was one of the most dominant pitchers to ever play the game?
One of the greatest left-handed pitchers in major league history, Grove led the American League in wins in four separate seasons, in strikeouts seven years in a row, and had the league's lowest earned run average a record nine times.
But Grove never pitched in a postseason game with the Red Sox.
In fact, despite his incredible numbers, he probably pitched in very few pressure games for the franchise—simply because the team wasn't very good. When he arrived in 1933, the Red Sox had been the AL doormats ever since Harry Frazee sold off Babe Ruth and other components of the powerhouse team he had acquired during World War I.
After going 28-5 in 1930, 31-4 in 1931 and 24-8 in 1933, he went in the tank his first year in Boston, going 8-8 with a 6.50 ERA
Granted, he had tried to pitch through a shoulder injury that season. He rededicated himself to his craft, and in 1935 he posted a 20-12 record and led the American League in ERA (2.70) as the Red Sox finished over .500 (78-75) for the first time since 1918.
He went on to win the AL ERA title for three of the next four years, and in 1938 he went 14-4 to also lead the league in winning percentage. That year the Red Sox won 88 games and finished second behind the Yankees, marking the first time they'd finished better than fourth since 1918.
Grove also made the AL All-Star for five straight Red Sox years (1935-1939). He retired in 1941, but not before he had two last hurrahs.
At the age of 40, he pitched an Opening Day two-hitter in a 1-0 win against the Washington Senators This was the last of his 35 career shutouts.
On July 25, 1941, he won his 300th game. At the tail end of his career, he had labored all season to get there. Jim Kaplan of SABR picks up the story:
Red Sox manager Joe Cronin told Grove, “Pop, this is a nine-inning game. I’m not coming out to get you.” Cronin didn’t, and Grove survived a rock-’em, sock-’em slugfest to beat the Indians on 12 hits, 10-6, with his best friend in baseball, Jimmie Foxx, getting the decisive two-run triple. His final win was no pathetic last gasp, some descriptions notwithstanding. Grove threw only 38 balls and walked just one batter. The 12th 300-game winner, the first since Pete Alexander in 1926 and the last until Warren Spahn in 1961, he had earned his place in history. He was roundly toasted at a champagne dinner party he threw for teammates that night.
Grove's career record was 300-141. His .680 lifetime winning percentage is first all time among pitchers with 240 wins or more.
If one includes his International League record of 121-38, Grove's totals are 421-179 which gives him a winning percentage of .702, the highest combined total in modern baseball history.
There is absolutely no question that Robert Moses Grove was a clutch pitcher with the Philadelphia Athletics before he came to Boston. There is also no question he was a great pitcher after he came to the Red Sox.
But he never really had to pitch in the clutch while he was in Boston.
In the introductory slide I mentioned how different people will define clutch pitching in different ways. I also hinted that some pitchers might be excluded because they just pitched well all the time.
Yes, that may be unfair and unreasonable, but I had to draw the line somewhere, and in this article I limited the pitchers I chose to those who clearly elevated their game in important situations.
As a result, there are a few glaring omissions of some of the franchise's greatest pitchers, to include Roger Clemens.
Clemens leads (or is close to the top of the list) in a number of all-time Red Sox pitching categories, to include wins, starts, shutouts, innings pitched, strikeouts, K/9 and a number of the new Sabermetric categories. Tellingly, however, he is not in the top 10 in ERA, WHIP, W-L percentage, HR/9 or BB/9.
As mentioned in the open, there was very little difference in his performance, no matter whether he was dealing with a high-stress or low-stress situation. Granted, since he was so good, there wasn't a lot of room for him to raise his game a notch.
However, there was some room, and unlike Jonathan Papelbon, he did not take advantage of the opportunity to excel in such situations.
Yes, I also admit that my perception of Clemens is tarnished by the way he played out the string in Boston between 1993 and his departure after the 1996 season, after which he quickly regained All-Star/Cy Young form for Toronto and then the Yankees.
In 2001, while Clemens was pitching for the Yankees, ESPN assigned columnist Bill Simmons had to write a story "to explain to the world why Boston fans believe that Roger Clemens might be the Antichrist."
Simmons argued that the biggest problem Red Sox fans had with Clemens was that he only seemed to peak in meaningless games.
"During Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Clemens could have closed out the Mets and emerged as a genuine hero," he wrote. "Everything was sitting right there at his fingertips -- 'legend' status, a statue, the whole shebang."
Instead, he exited after the seventh inning with a blister on the index finger of his throwing hand. OK, he had the lead at the time (3-2), but given what was on the line, could he not have figured out some way to gut through a blister? (Contrast this with the Schilling "Bloody Sock" game.)
Clemens started nine playoff games for the Red Sox between 1986 and 1990. The Red Sox were able to win only one of those starts (Game 7 of the 1986 ALCS).
It is true that Boston's bullpen blew two other potential wins, but his record in those nine starts was an uninspiring 1-2 with an ERA around four.
In Game 4 of the 1990 American League playoffs between the Red Sox and the As, Simmons reminds us that Clemens "flipped out while arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Terry Cooney and got himself tossed in the second inning, even punctuating his exit by throwing a memorable, Whitney Houston-esque tantrum on the field and bumping Cooney more than once."
What's wrong with this picture? Ace pitcher, big game, clutch performance needed. You don't get thrown out in the second inning.
Nevertheless, after the 1992 season, Clemens signed a four-year, $20 million contract.
How did that work out?
According to Simmons, he "took much of the next three-plus years off, almost like a professor who gets tenure and doesn't feel like grading papers anymore."
In 1996, the final season of Clemens' four-year deal, he started the season 0-4 amidst complaints that he was out of shape and upset that Boston had not offered him a new contract. By the beginning of August he was 4-11.
Then a strange thing happened. Clemens went 6-2 over his last 10 starts and struck out 20 Tigers in a mid-Sept. game. As Simmons saw it, "The Rocket turned on the jets once the team fell out of playoff contention. Classic Clemens, through and through. You could always count on him when it mattered least."
The Red Sox let him go as a free agent at the end of that year, and he signed with Toronto.
Simmons describes what happened next:
Clemens embarked on a rigorous conditioning program during the offseason, determined to prove Team Duquette wrong. He arrived for spring training in superb shape for the first time in eons, repeatedly telling reporters that he had never been better prepared to start a season. Of course, that revelation should have prompted questions like, "If you're so motivated this season, why weren't you as motivated from 1993-96 after signing the most lucrative deal in Red Sox history?"
YR W-L ERA G IP SO
93-96 10-10 3.90 26 186.1 204 1997 21-7 2.05 34 264.0 292 1998 20-6 2.65 33 234.2 271
The chart above shows Clemens' average performance for Boston between 1993 and 1996, followed by his two years in Toronto.
All in all, Clemens was a great pitcher for the Red Sox from 1986 to 1992, and an average pitcher from 1993 to 1996. That does not mean he ever was a true clutch pitcher, as the above analysis suggests.