Roy Halladay No-Hitter: 10 Greatest Pitching Performances in MLB Playoff History

Scott GyurinaCorrespondent IOctober 8, 2010

Roy Halladay No-Hitter: 10 Greatest Pitching Performances in MLB Playoff History

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    Roy Halladay was brought to Philadelphia to lead an already solid starting rotation and to hopefully succeed where they ultimately failed last year; The Phillies want another World Series ring.

    "Doc", owner of an incredibly impressive resume as Toronto's ace and considered one of the greatest pitchers in Major League Baseball, had seemingly done everything on a baseball mound. However, after 12 seasons, 148 career wins, 6 All-Star appearances and a Cy Young award, Roy Halladay had never thrown an inning of playoff baseball.

    His new team in Philadelphia had just progressed as far as Game 6 of the World Series in 2009, only to ultimately lose to the Yankees and stoke their desire to win even further.

    The Phillies already had an ace, Cliff Lee, the man that had valiantly led them through the playoffs of 2009, pitching his way into annals of post-season history with his own string of dominant performances that would thrust his name into the national baseball consciousness.

    However, the Phillies saw an opportunity to acquire Roy Halladay in the off-season, making the difficult decision to part ways with Lee as part of a three-team trade that would bring the right-handed ace from the Great White North to the City of Brotherly Love.

    Filling the shoes of Cliff Lee after his dominant 2009 in a Philadelphia uniform would be difficult, but Roy Halladay authored his own Philadelphia story with a 2010 worthy of Cy Young award candidacy Then on Wednesday, Doc earned himself a bit of baseball immortality with his dramatically striking playoff debut as he threw only the second no-hitter in Major League Baseball post-season history.

Roy Halladay: 2010 NLDS Game One

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    Earlier this season, on May 29, Roy Halladay reached baseball immortality by pitching only the 20th perfect game in Major League history with a dominant 1-0 victory over the Florida Marlins. "Doc" proved early in his Philadelphia career precisely why the Phillies were willing to take the risky step of parting with the ace they already had in Cliff Lee to bring Halladay to Philly.

    He adapted well to the National League, dominating his way to a stellar 2010 in which he led the NL in victories, innings pitched, shut-outs and complete games. The ace will surely be among the top candidates for the NL Cy Young award when the post-season concludes.

    The only question mark that remained regarding Halladay would be how the right-hander would fare in his first foray into baseball's post-season action. As a lifelong Blue Jay, he had yet to make his playoff debut.

    Well yesterday, October 6, he finally made that debut and emphatically answered any lingering questions with his performance.

    Not only did he pitch well and lead his team to an NLDS Game 1 victory over the Central Division champion Cincinnati Reds, but he made history along the way. Roy Halladay became the second man in Major League history to throw a no-hitter in post-season play, joining Don Larsen of the 1956 Yankees in the record books. His performance would also make him only the fourth pitcher ever to throw two no-hitters in the span of one season.

    Already struggling to score runs in Philadelphia, the Cincinnati Reds entered the NLDS match-up not having scored at Citizen's Bank Park in 21 consecutive innings. They were looking to get out to a strong road start against a team whom not many observers have given them much chance to defeat in the series. Facing the leading NL Cy Young Candidate though, scoring would be no easy task.

    Halladay would make a sparkling debut, pitching nearly perfect baseball, while only allowing one base-runner on a fifth inning walk to Reds' right-fielder Jay Bruce. He would strike out eight Reds, while only allowing four balls to be hit out of the infield. There was only one ball hit truly hard all night, a third inning line-out to right by opposing pitcher Travis Wood. "Doc" was working ahead of hitters all night, as he threw an astounding 25 first-pitch strikes out of 28 batters he faced. Utterly dominating is the only way to describe Halladay's Game 1 performance.

    Whether the Reds can ever score again at Citizen's Bank Park shall remain to be seen, their streak now sits at 30 scoreless innings there. They may be too demoralized from Halladay's dominance over them to rebound in the series, and facing Phillies' starters Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt will be no simple task they attempt to recover. The remainder of the series will have to wait a day, as there is a day off today which will give everyone ample time to sit and reflect upon one of the greatest post-season pitching performances the game has ever witnessed. 

Dave McNally: 1969 ALCS Game Two

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    Dave McNally may not be a household name in 2010, but for a period during the late 60's and early 70's he was among the very best southpaws that baseball had to offer. A career-long Baltimore Oriole, aside from the last season of his career in Montreal, McNally won 20 games in four consecutive seasons from  1968-1971.

    During that stretch, Baltimore earned three straight World Series appearances, winning in 1970 when they beat the Cincinnati Reds. For McNally personally, he delivered an unbelievable start in the 1969 American League Championship Series en route to the first of those three straight trips to the World Series.

    In an epic pitchers' duel between McNally and Dave Boswell of the Minnesota Twins, both pitchers last into extra innings in a scoreless battle. Pitching the  entire 11 innings, McNally earned the victory when Baltimore walked-off with the win on a Curt Motton RBI double with two out in the bottom of the 11th inning.

    Over his 11 shutout innings, Dave McNally allowed only three base-hits, all singles, while walking five Twins. He struck out 11 hitters, dominating a lineup boasting two Hall-of-Famers as well as Tony Oliva.

    McNally's performance hearkened back to the early days of Major League Baseball, before the proliferation of relief pitching and specialty bullpen arms. His 11 shutout innings in Game 2 of the ALCS were a throw-back to the days when pitchers pitched every few days, leaving every bit of themselves on the mound with each outing. As we're reminded of the greatest pitching performances in baseball post-season history, Dave McNally's 1969 ALCS start stands amongst the best we've ever seen.

Pedro Martinez: 1999 ALDS Game Five

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    In 1999, Pedro Martinez of the Boston Red Sox authored one of the greatest pitching seasons in modern baseball history as he went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA, striking out a phenomenal 313 hitters in only 213.1 innings. He would win his second of three Cy Young awards and lead his team to a second place in the American League East and they would be the AL Wild Card entrant into the post-season. Even more impressive in hindsight might be that his absolutely dominant 1999 and 2000 seasons occurred dead in the heart of baseball's infamous "steroid era", a time dominated by hulking sluggers and grossly inflated home run totals.

    During that thrilling post-season that followed, Pedro picked up precisely where he left off in the regular season. Unfortunately, as his team locked in a heated battle with the mighty Cleveland Indians, a team that had accomplished the unbelievable feat of scoring 1,009 runs that year, Pedro encountered back stiffness that made his status questionable throughout the series. In fact, he left his Game 1 start of that series after pitching four inning of shut-out ball, a game his team would eventually lose 3-2 without him.

    Pedro would not make another start that series due to his back, however, he would still play a massively instrumental role in the match-up despite his physical limitations.

    After Cleveland jumped out to a 2-0 series lead at home, Boston enjoyed their home-field advantage in Games 3 and 4, winning those games at Fenway to even the series. The Game 4 win was thorough trouncing of the Indians in which the Red Sox embarrassed Cleveland 23-7.

    The potent Cleveland Indians were seeking vengeance, and they found it, battering Boston starter Bret Saberhagen for five runs in only an inning-plus of work. Boston would counter with five runs in the top of the third, but the Indians answered with three more in the bottom of the inning of Derek Lowe. After scoring a run to tie the game in the top of the fourth, Boston now sensed their opportunity and turned to Pedro Martinez in relief to start the bottom of the fourth inning. His back had healed enough to make a contribution to his team's effort to overcome the powerful Indians.

    And contribute he did.

    Pedro entered the game in the fourth, blazing fastballs, changing speeds and dropping his breaking pitches off the table, completely baffling the Cleveland lineup, something that rarely occurred en route to their 1,000+ run scoring season. A modern day Murderers' Row, Cleveland's lineup boasted three future hall-of-famers, and was loaded with powerful hitters throughout.

    That day though, they had no hope against Pedro Martinez, as he pitched the remainder of the game, throwing six inning of no-hit ball, shutting them out, walking three, while striking out eight. Pedro only allowed one ball out of the infield, a harmless fly ball to center-field.

    The diminutive hurler from the Dominican put forth a valiant effort to suppress a dominant Cleveland lineup that night, overcoming his own health concerns to help his team and to clinch the American League Division Series for the Red Sox, en route to their ALCS meeting with the Yankees. No matter which team you're a fan of, it's nearly impossible to not respect what Pedro accomplished that night, carving his name into baseball lore.

Babe Ruth: 1916 World Series Game Two

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    Buried deep beneath the legend of the Sultan of Swat, in the years before he forever changed the game of baseball and made New York City the epicenter of legendary baseball performances; George Herman Ruth was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, and a mighty fine one at that.

    With all the stories surrounding his slugging prowess and the excitement that his unparalleled bat generated, it can be easy to forget that for six years in Boston, Babe Ruth was among the few best pitchers in the game. During the years of World War I, and the few following it, Ruth went 89-46 with a 2.19 ERA for the Red Sox, helping to cast them as the team to beat in the American League, as they won three World Series during his tenure.

    He was a significant reason behind their playoff success as well, as he was 3-0 in his three World Series starts for Boston, only allowing three runs in a total of 31 innings in the 1916 and 1918 World Series.

    One start in particular, Ruth would lay early claim to legendary status, years before anyone knew what a larger than life icon he would become in the history of the game.

    Facing the National League champion Brooklyn Robins, the Red Sox had taken the series lead with a Game 1 victory in Boston. Not wanting to even the series before they headed back to Brooklyn, Boston turned to young hurler Babe Ruth to hopefully head up two games to none.

    The game didn't start in Boston's favor, as the third batter of the game, Brooklyn center-fielder Hi Myers hit an inside-the-park home run to deep center field, giving the Robins an early lead. Ruth would settle in though, shutting down the Robins until the Babe's own RBI ground-out tied the game in the bottom of the third.

    The game would remain locked in a pitchers' duel for the remainder, as Ruth and Brooklyn starter traded zeroes for 13 full innings. Ruth would set the Robins down in order in the top of the 14th, allowing his team the opportunity to win it in the bottom of the inning.  A Del Gainer walk-off single would finally bring the game to a thrilling conclusion after hours of scoreless baseball.

    For his part, Babe Ruth threw 13.1 shutout innings after the first-inning home run, going 14 in all, allowing only six hits, three walks, while striking out four.

    Boston would go on to win the series in five games, thanks in part to their 21-year-old lefty's heroic pitching performance, one that will be long remembered as one of the top post-season pitching performances of all time.

Sandy Koufax: 1963 World Series Game One

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    The Yankees were coming off back-to-back World Series titles in 1961 and 1962, looking to add a third consecutive championship in 1963 to bolster their already unmatched legacy.

    Tasked with containing this All-Star laden lineup, Sandy Koufax was matched up against fellow southpaw and future Hall-of-Famer Whitey Ford. Following an amazing regular season in which he went 25-5 with a 1.88 ERA, 306 strikeouts and a 0.875 WHIP, Sandy Koufax was just beginning his five year stretch of brilliance that would cement his reputation as one of baseball's all-time greatest left-handed pitchers. Despite his relatively short career, left-handers would be held to Koufax's standard for generations to come.

    Heading into unforgiving Yankee Stadium, site of so many high-profile baseball moments and facing a lineup with names such as Mantle, Maris, Richardson, Howard, etc. is an unenviable position to find oneself in, but Sandy barely batted an eye. He calmly went about his business, shutting down the mighty Yankees until Tom Tresh touched him for a two-run home run in the eighth inning. In all, Koufax threw a complete game victory, allowing just those two runs, six hits and three walks, while striking out 15 Yankee hitters, which was a record until Bob Gibson broke it three years later. Despite giving up the home run, Koufax's outing was so dominant that the Dodgers early lead never felt threatened. The lefty had set a tone for the 1963 World Series that the Yankees would never overcome.

    Based upon the fact that Koufax allowed a home run, two earned runs and twice as many runners in his outing as Don Drysdale did in his impeccable Game 3 start, one could argue that Drysdale belongs on this list ahead of Koufax. After all, Drysdale in his complete game, 1-0 shut-out victory allowed only three hits, all singles, with one walk, and nine strikeouts. His inclusion here would be no mistake.

    However, the fact that when Drysdale made his Game 3 start, the Dodgers were already staked to a two game to none lead in the series, versus Koufax's tone-setting Game 1 dominance, certainly played a part in my decision. Also, Koufax completely dominated the Yankees in storied Yankee Stadium, while Drysdale was in the more pitcher friendly confines of his home ballpark Dodger Stadium.

    Either way, both performances were responsible for the shocking four-game sweep of the two-time defending champion Yankees and belong amongst the greatest post-season pitching performances in baseball history.

Josh Beckett: 2003 NLCS Game Five

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    In just his third season as a Major Leaguer, the fire-balling 23-year-old Texan Josh Beckett was conjuring images of another hard-throwing right-hander from the lone-star state. It was impossible to watch Beckett and not think of Roger Clemens throwing heat and breaking off nearly un-hittable breaking pitches.

    Unfortunately for Beckett, the excitement over his brilliant potential was already being tempered by early career struggles with staying healthy. Whether it was his back or blister problems on his fingers, Beckett had difficulty taking the mound regularly.

    Once the 2003 playoffs rolled around though, and Beckett led his young, upstart Marlins to a World Series victory against the big-money, veteran Yankees, Beckett would begin to forge another type of reputation altogether.

    Although his World Series clinching victory in Game 5 was utterly dominant, as he put a deep, powerful Yankee lineup to sleep with his filthy stuff, he had a start in the NLCS prior to that in which he was even more overwhelming.

    Some may blame the Marlins NLCS victory over the Chicago Cubs on the Curse of the Billy-goat, but really, it had quite a lot to do with Josh Beckett and the young arms of the National League expansion franchise in Florida.

    After struggling badly in Game 1 of the series against the Cubs, Beckett was fortunate that his team came away from the opener with a 9-8 victory. His performance left many questions however, leaving the Marlins with slight doubts over his start in Game 5.

    Beckett quickly put to rest any lingering fears over how he would respond to the adversity he faced in Game 1. Returning to Florida, with his Marlins down three games to one, Beckett assumed responsibility for the fate of his team's season.

    Facing a powerful Cubs lineup, Beckett shut them down with barely a whimper from their sluggers. In a nine-inning, complete game shut-out, Beckett allowed only three base-runners on two singles and a walk. He retired the last eight batters he faced to close out the game, and overall, struck out 11 Cubs, and retired 11 more on ground-balls . Though the Cubs still held a 3-2 advantage in the series, the way in which Beckett dominated them served as a significant momentum shift in the Marlins' favor.

    Beckett would go on to defeat the Yankees in Game 6 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, shocking the Yankees as the young Marlins stole a title from the Yankees that many thought was a foregone conclusion. Although that start was dominant in its own right, it didn't quite match the sheer brilliance of Beckett's NLCS Game 5 performance.

Randy Johnson: 2001 World Series Game Two

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    In Arizona's march to their first World Series title in franchise history, Randy Johnson personally collected five dominant starts and one more shut-down relief appearance against the Yankees to win co-MVP honors in the World Series with his teammate Curt Schilling.

    He pitched an exact replica of this in the NLCS against Atlanta, but the circumstances and competition render that less impressive than stifling the 2001 Yankees, a team in the midst of three consecutive championship seasons, in the World Series.

    With all the drama and tension in the country following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, it almost seemed that out of a sense of camaraderie and respect, the baseball world was ready to concede the World Series to the New York Yankees. Only no one told the Arizona Diamondbacks about that plan.

    After the D-backs pounded the Yankees behind Curt Schilling in Game 1, the Yankees were looking to accomplish a difficult feat of evening the series against the Big Unit, Randy Johnson.

    Johnson was not interested in niceties as he thoroughly dismantled the Yankees' offensive attack with 95-100 MPH fastballs and a devastating slider, often buried in the dirt of the right side batters' box.

    In a nine-inning, complete game shut-out, the Big Unit overwhelmingly stymied Yankee hitters, making quick work of the three-time championship squad. Johnson allowed only three singles, and one walk, while striking out 11 Yankees, every one of the starters at least once. He didn't allow a runner until the top of the fourth, and by that time, the 1-0 Diamondback lead felt like a 10 run deficit to the Yankees with Johnson on the hill.

    The Big Unit would return in Game 6 to deliver another sound beating to the Yankees, as well as a shut-down relief appearance in Game 7 to earn the win in the D-backs dramatic walk-off victory against Mariano Rivera. While those combined performances contributed to Johnson's MVP credentials, neither of them could match the sheer dominance of his Game 2 start.

Jack Morris: 1991 World Series Game Seven

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    The 1991 post-season is where Jack Morris crafted much of his reputation and earned him a potential spot amongst baseball elite in Cooperstown in the minds of many.

    After a regular season in which he threw 246.2 innings and winning 18 games at age 36, Jack Morris would find himself in the playoffs once again, this time as a member of the Minnesota Twins.

    He pitched two unspectacular games in the ALCS, but earned the victory in both, helping to propel his team the World Series to face the Atlanta Braves. It would be a return engagement for him, as he won the series in 1984 while with the Detroit Tigers, a series in which he also won the two games he started.

    In 1991, he was counted on to start Games 1, 4 and 7 for his Twins squad, quite the expectation for the 36-year-old right-hander. He rose to the challenge however, pitching seven innings of two run ball in Game 1to earn the opening victory. Morris pitched just as well in Game 4, hurling six innings of one run ball, but would see his team lose a close 3-2 game which would even the series at two games each.

    Morris saved his best for last, as he was called on to pitch the decisive Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. The veteran hurler would etch his name into the collective memories of baseball fans everywhere with a legendary 10 inning, complete-game, shutout performance in a dramatic 1-0 Twins walk-off victory made possible by Morris' courageous night on the mound.

    Over his 10 innings, Morris would allow seven hits with two walks, one of which was intentional, only to be erased when Morris quickly induced a Sid Bream double-play ground-out. He would strike out eight men and only allow two runners to reach third-base all game.

    Following the Sid Bream double-play ball in the top of the eighth inning, Morris seemed to get stronger, as he set down the final six batters he would face in the ninth and tenth innings without allowing a ball out of the infield.

    When Dan Gladden doubled in the bottom of the tenth, to eventually come around to score on a Gene Larkin walk-off single, the Twins had their ace Jack Morris to thank for shutting down the Braves long enough to get the opportunity to win it in dramatic fashion. For his exploits, Jack Morris was named World Series MVP that year, and his performance will forever live as one of the greatest in baseball post-season history.

Bob Gibson: 1968 World Series Game One

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    Although the 1968 St. Louis Cardinals were the reigning World Series Champions, they entered the World Series that year facing a significant challenge in the form of a powerful Detroit Tigers team. Even in a supposed "year of the pitcher", the Tigers easily led the American League in runs scored, slugging percentage, and led all of baseball in home runs by a sizable margin. In addition, the Detroit pitching staff was led by Denny McClain, who that year went 31-6 with a 1.96 ERA, and would long be remembered as baseball's last 30-game winner.

    Facing off against a team boasting such credentials, who had won a Major League leading 103 games would be a daunting task for most pitchers, unless they happened to be Bob Gibson. Despite McClain's lofty win total, Gibson had no fear, as he had gone a stellar 22-9, with an all-time record 1.12 ERA, striking out 268 in 304.2 innings, also leading the league in WHIP at 0.853, as well as shut-outs with 13.

    The two pitching giants would face-off in Game 1 of the World Series, with Gibson stealing the show in the opening match-up. In a complete game, shut-out victory, Bob Gibson allowed on five hits and one walk in nine innings, while also striking out a World Series record 17 batters. His dominance was such that he only allowed one runner past second base all game, and he closed out the performance by striking out Al Kaline, Norm Cash and Willie Horton consecutively to finish the ninth inning.

    Gibson would hurl two more complete games in the 1968 World Series, in Games 4 and 7, but neither could compare to his unforgettable Game 1 performance. The Cardinals would ultimately lose the series in seven to the Tigers, but Bob Gibson had given pitchers a World Series standard to forever strive for.

Don Larsen: 1956 World Series Game

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    The gold standard by which we judge any post-season pitching performance is Don Larsen's masterpiece in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers. Until yesterday, it had been the only no-hitter ever thrown in playoff history, and thanks to a Jay Bruce bases on balls, still remains the only perfect game to ever occur in the post-season.

    Perhaps an extremely surprising result, not only because of Larsen's unspectacular career resume, but also due to the fact that he had had a very poor outing in the same World Series, only three days prior in Game 2. In that game, Larsen had no control, walking four, and allowing four runs while not lasting beyond the second inning.

    October 8, 1956 was a very different story though, as Don Larsen accomplished everything he set out to do on the pitchers' mound. Blessed with impeccable control that day, Larsen needed only 97 pitches to finish off the Brooklyn Dodgers without allowing a single base-runner. Of those 97 pitches, an amazing 71 of them were strikes. Since he was near the strike zone all day, Dodger hitters never had a chance to relax, constantly bombarded with strikes, forcing them to swing early and often.

    In his complete game victory, he faced the minimum 27 batters, striking out seven, retiring 11 by fly-out, eight more by infield ground-out and one on a line-drive.

    Until someone else is able to match Don Larsen's feat, it will remain as the greatest pitching performance in Major League Baseball post-season history. The image of an ecstatic Yogi Berra charging the mound after the last out and leaping into Larsen's arms will last as an indelible image in the minds of baseball fans nationwide.