Pressure Pitchers: The Top 50 Pitchers You Want Starting a Game 7
There may be nothing in professional sports that quite measures up to starting the final game of a seven-game playoff series in Major League Baseball. It can either mean going home, moving on, or winning it all.
Before the advent of the expanded playoff system in 1969, only two teams were eligible in MLB, the pennant winners of the American and National Leagues. For 66 seasons this was the accepted format, and the Fall Classic brought us many great memories from that period of time.
When both leagues split into two divisions, the League Championship series was formed, and was a best-of-five format up until 1985, when it was increased to seven games to increase revenue and match the length of the World Series.
When the Division Series was introduced in 1995, five games were determined to be the length, and has remained so ever since. Even though we are looking at who we would consider to start a Game 7 of a series, we could certainly count Game 5 of division series as well, considering it’s a one-and-done proposition, and still determines whether a team marches onward or out.
So, the upcoming list is a ranking of the top 50 pitchers to start a Game 7, or deciding game of a playoff series.
The list does NOT reflect how a pitcher performed during the regular season, it only reflects their performance DURING the playoffs. Major difference here.
Performances in big games during the season might be important, but don’t reflect the type of pressure that pitchers are under when given the ball to get their team a championship.
And here we go…
#50: Randy Johnson, Seattle Mariners/Houston Astros/Arizona D-Backs/N.Y. Yankees
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Prior to the 2001 National League Championship Series, Randy Johnson had suffered through seven straight losses in his postseason career, then turned it around all in one year, with two wins against the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS and three wins against the New York Yankees in the World Series in 2001, including as a reliever in the deciding seventh game.
However, other than that one year, he was woeful in the playoffs, compiling a 2-9 record in all other postseason appearances. Not exactly the stuff legends are made of.
#49: Tom Glavine, Atlanta Braves/New York Mets
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While Glavine pitched a TON of games in the postseason, his overall record of 14-16 prevents him from being higher on this list.
In five World Series, Glavine was 4-3 with a 2.16 ERA, being a tough luck loser in several big games, with Braves bats falling silent behind him. His career 0.90 WHIP is one of the lowest in World Series history.
#48: Greg Maddux, Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers
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I seriously debated even putting Greg Maddux on this list. His career postseason record was 11-14, however that was with a 3.27 ERA and included several tough-luck losses.
In five World Series appearances, he was 2-3 with a 2.09 ERA. He wasn’t exactly blown out of games because he stunk. He kept his teams in the ballgame.
#47: Chief Bender, Philadelphia Athletics
Ty Cobb once referred to Chief Bender as the most intelligent pitcher he had ever faced. Bender pitched in three World Series for legendary Connie Mack and the Philadelphia Athletics in 1910, 1911 and 1913. In 1911, he pitched three complete games, tying the record set by Christy Mathewson.
Overall, he was 6-4 in postseason play with a 2.44 ERA, but his fierceness and competitiveness during the postseason is how he is remembered.
#46: Lew Burdette, Milwaukee Braves
During his outstanding career, Lew Burdette was known more as a control pitcher, ranked fourth all time in walks per nine innings among pitchers with at least 3,000 innings.
But it was the 1957 World Series when Burdette absolutely shined brightest. Against a vaunted New York Yankees lineup, Burdette pitched three complete games, including two shutouts, the second of which was in the seventh game on two days’ rest, leading the Milwaukee Braves to their first World Championship in 43 years.
#45: Bruce Hurst, Boston Red Sox
In 1986, Bruce Hurst, a gritty left-handed pitcher showed he was a big-game pitcher, beating the New York Mets in Games 2 and 5 of the World Series. Hurst had initially been named the MVP of the World Series in 1986, with the announcement even being made public on the stadium scoreboard with the Mets facing their last strike in Game 6.
Of course, the rest is history, with the Mets pulling off the amazing comeback and eventually winning the World Series. Hurst came back and started Game 7, going six innings and leaving with the game tied, 3-3. Of course, the Red Sox bullpen once again imploded, handing the Mets the game, and the Series.
#44: Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
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The body of work is not complete yet, as he is only 26, however Hamels thus far has come up big in games when it mattered, 3-1 combined in NLCS and World Series action.
In 2008, Hamels had a combined record of 4-0, winning MVP honors for both the NLCS and the World Series. Again, the body of work is a small sample size, but he has shown thus far to be more than willing to take the ball in big games.
#43: Jack Coombs, Philadelphia Athletics/Brooklyn Robins
In 1910 for the Philadelphia Athletics, Coombs was 31-9 with 13 shutouts during the regular season, and then won three games for the A’s in the World Series in their victory over the Chicago Cubs.
Coombs went on to pitch in two more World Series, and finished with a postseason record of 5-0 with a 2.70 ERA.
#42: David Wells, Multiple Teams
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In his 21-season career, Wells pitched with six different teams in the postseason, with a 10-5 record and 3.17 ERA.
It was in his ALCS appearances that Wells consistently came up huge, with a 4-0 record and 2.79 ERA.
#41: Lefty Grove, Philadelphia Athletics
In a three-year stretch between 1929-31, the Philadelphia Athletics made three straight World Series appearances, winning the first two. Grove was 4-2 during that time, with four complete games and a 1.75 ERA.
While the A’s were contenders the following two seasons, they lost out to both the Yankees and Washington Senators, and Connie Mack then traded Grove to the Boston Red Sox in what was considered one of the worst trades ever made in MLB history at the time. Grove would never return to the Fall Classic.
#40: Steve Blass, Pittsburgh Pirates
For one magical season, in 1971, Steve Blass was the man. In two games in the 1971 World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Blass beat the Baltimore Orioles in Game 3, and in the deciding seventh game, pitched a complete game victory, lifting the Pirates to their first world title in 11 seasons.
Blass inexplicably lost his control after the following season, and was out of baseball by 1974. But that one shining season put Blass on this list.
#39: Jim Lonborg, Boston Red Sox
In the 1967 season, the Boston Red Sox were coming off an eight-year streak of consecutive losing seasons and were expected to be the doormats of the American League once again. Behind the strength of Carl Yastrzemski’s triple crown season and the arm of one Lim Lonborg, the Red Sox miraculously won the 1967 A.L. pennant and faced the vaunted St. Louis Cardinals.
After pitching in the regular season finale and leading the Red Sox to the pennant, Lonborg didn’t pitch until Game 2. Lonborg threw a one-hit complete game shutout, and followed up that performance with a three-hit complete game victory in Game 5.
In Game 7, Lonborg came back on two days’ rest. He gamely attempted to carry the Sox to their first World Series triumph in 49 years but came up short. That winter, Lonborg was involved in a skiing accident and never fully gained back the dominance of that one magical season.
#38: Roger Clemens, Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees/Houston Astros
Say what you want about Roger Roid-man, but during the postseason, he was actually pretty good.
In six World Series, Roger was 3-0 with a 2.37 ERA.
#37: Lefty Gomez, New York Yankees
Gomez, in seven appearances in the World Series for the Yankees, won six games with a 2.86 ERA without a loss. Gomez along with Red Ruffing, may have been one of the best 1-2 starters in World Series history.
Gomez also holds a World Series record for most times being walked in the same inning (twice in the sixth inning of Game 1 in 1937).
#36: Grover Cleveland Alexander, Philadelphia Phillies/St. Louis Cardinals
Alexander’s overall World Series’ statistics are bloated by an awful appearance at the age of 41 in the 1928 World Series.
Before that, Alexander was 3-1 with a 1.42 ERA, helping lead the Cardinals to a series victory in 1926 over the New York Yankees, throwing complete game victories in Games 2 and 6. In Game 7, following a night in which Alexander apparently drank himself senseless, he was called upon in relief in the seventh inning. Facing one of the more feared hitters in the game, Tony Lazzeri, Alexander struck him out and went on to pitch two more scoreless innings to preserve the Cardinals win.
#35: Warren Spahn, Milwaukee Braves
Spahn, who won more games than any left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball history, only made it to the World Series three times for the Milwaukee Braves.
In 1958, when Spahn was 37, he won Games 1 and 4, throwing two complete games against the feared New York Yankees lineup. In Game 6, coming back on two days to try to clinch the Series, Spahn pitched 9.2 innings, finally tiring in the tenth and leaving the game. Reliever Don McMahon would give up the game-winning hit, pinning Spahn with the tough luck loss. The Braves went on lose Game 7 and the Series.
#34: Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
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One performance alone puts Halladay on this list, and for obvious reasons.
After 11 seasons and 169 wins, Halladay finally made it to the postseason in 2010.
In his first postseason performance against the Cincinnati Reds, Halladay became only the second pitcher in the 107-year history of postseason play to throw a no-hitter, beating the Reds 4-0.
#33: Vic Raschi, New York Yankees
In eight stellar seasons with the New York Yankees, Raschi was 120-50 during the regular season, and followed that up with a 5-3 record with a 2.24 ERA in six World Series.
Raschi was especially brilliant in the 1952 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, throwing complete game victories in Games 2 and 6, then coming back the next day to pitch a scoreless seventh inning, helping the Yankees to a 4-2 win in the seventh and deciding game, and another Yankees title.
#32: Jose Rijo, Cincinati Reds
While Rijo may not jump out in terms of his overall career, largely because of injuries, in 1990 he was absolutely brilliant for the Cincinnati Reds.
After pitching seven scoreless innings to secure Game 1 for the Reds against the Oakland A’s, Rijo returned in Game 4 to go for the sweep over the A’s. Rijo did not disappoint, this time pitching 8.1 innings and allowing only two hits in the Reds’ 2-1 win.
Rijo was named the World Series MVP in his only World Series appearance.
#31: Ron Guidry, New York Yankees
Guidry, known as Louisiana Lightning, was absolutely a thunderbolt in his postseason career, especially in the Fall Classic.
In four appearance over three World Series, Guidry was 3-1 with a 1.69 ERA, with three of the appearance being complete game efforts.
The 1981 World Series would be Guidry’s last, as the Yankees didn’t return to the postseason for another 14 seasons.
#30: Harry Brecheen, St. Louis Cardinals
While Brecheen was a fairly good pitcher during his 12-year career, it was his postseason appearances that put Brecheen on this list.
In three World Series, all with the Cardinals, Brecheen was 4-1 with a 0.83 ERA.
In the 1946 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, Brecheen won Games 2 and 6, both complete game victories, and won Game 7 with two innings in relief, giving the Cardinals their second Series win in three years.
#29: Don Drysdale, Los Angeles Dodgers
Save for a blowout in Game 1 of the 1966 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Drysdale was an outstanding postseason pitcher for the Dodgers, with a 3-3 record and 2.95 ERA.
Even in Game 4 of the ’66 Series, Drysdale pitched a complete game four-hitter, the single run he allowed being a home run to American League triple crown winner Frank Robinson. However he lost to Dave McNally, who also pitched a complete game four-hitter, but allowed no runs, giving the Orioles a four game sweep over the Dodgers.
#28: Allie Reynolds, New York Yankees
Reynolds appeared in six World Series in his eight seasons with the Yankees, and compiled a 7-2 postseason record with a 2.79 ERA.
The Brooklyn Dodgers certainly thought that Reynolds was tough in the postseason. In four World Series against the Dodgers, Reynolds was 5-1 with a 2.82 ERA.
#27: Jack Billingham, Cincinnati Reds
Again, Billingham didn’t exactly raise fear in the eyes of opponent during his career in the regular season, but during the World Series, Billingham pitched more like his cousin, Christy Mathewson.
In three World Series, Billingham was 2-0 with a 0.36 ERA in 25.1 innings pitched. In the 1975 epic World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and Boston Red Sox, Billingham was the Game 2 starter in the Reds’ 3-2 victory, and then followed with two scoreless relief appearances in Games 6 and 7.
Billingham was money when it counted.
#26: Roy Oswalt, Houston Astros/Philadelphia Phillies
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After last night’s sterling eight inning, three-hit performance for the Phillies against the San Francisco Giants, Oswalt is now 5-0 in the postseason, with a 3.46 ERA.
This postseason isn’t over yet, and no telling where he’ll eventually end up all time, but Oswalt is certainly showing he doesn’t shy away from big game pitching.
#25: Dave McNally, Baltimore Orioles
McNally’s Game 4 performance in Game 4 of the 1966 World Series was nothing short of brilliant, throwing a complete-game four hit shutout in a pitchers’ duel against Don Drysdale, giving the O’s their first world championship since moving to Baltimore from St. Louis in 1954.
McNally’s shutout set an all-time World Series record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched by a team with 33.1, started in Game 2 by Moe Drabowski.
McNally went on to achieve a 4-2 record in World Series appearances with a 2.34 ERA.
He is also the only pitcher ever to hit a grand-slam homer in the World Series, doing it in Game 3 of the 1970 Series off Cincinnati Reds pitcher Wayne Granger.
#24: Bill Dinneen, Boston Americans
Dinneen is the only career sub .500 pitcher on this list, compiling a 170-177 record over 12 seasons with four different teams.
However, for the Boston Americans, who would later become the Red Sox, Dinneen was masterful, winning three games and leading the Americans to victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first World Series ever played.
In four games, Dinneen threw four complete games, three of them victories, including the deciding eighth game (yes, there were eight games back then).
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.
#23: Christy Mathewson, New York Giants
In the third World Series ever played in 1905, Mathewson set a record, and an accomplishment that could never possibly be matched. In the Series, with the Giants facing the Philadelphia Athletics, Mathewson started Game 1 and threw a four-hit shutout. Two days later, in Game 3, he threw another four-hit shutout. Two days later, in Game 5, Mathewson threw a six-hit shutout to win the Series for the Giants.
In a span of six days, Mathewson threw three complete game shutouts.
The only reason Mathewson isn’t higher on this list is because he was 2-5 in his next three World Series, but with a 5-5 overall record, he had an ERA of 0.97.
Sheesh… Talk about a lack of run support. No wonder they called it the Dead Ball Era.
#22: Dizzy Dean, St. Louis Cardinals
Dizzy Dean, famed pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals’ Gas House Gang, won 30 games for the Cardinals in 1934. His brother Paul also won 19 games that same season for the Cards, helping them win and moving on to face the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.
The Dean brothers together won all four games for the Cardinals, with Dizzy pitching a six-hit complete game shutout in Game 7, giving the Cardinals their third overall World Series championship.
In 1937, during the All-Star Game, Dizzy took a line drive off the bat of Earl Averill that broke his toe. Attempting to come back too early, he ended up changing his pitching mechanics and ruined his arm, robbing him of his famed velocity. The Cards traded him to the Chicago Cubs.
In 1938, pitching on guts alone, Dean helped lead to Cubs to the World Series, however Dean lost Game 2, and the Cubs were swept by the New York Yankees.
#21: Bret Saberhagen, Kansas City Royals
Bret Saberhagen only pitched in one World Series, in 1985 with the Kansas City Royals, but it was his performance that season that is etched so fondly in the hearts and minds of many a fan.
Saberhagen was a second year player that year, coming off a 20-win season at the age of 21. After pitching mediocre baseball during the ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays, Saberhagen put it into overdrive in the World Series.
In Game 3, Saberhagen threw a complete game six-hitter, beating the St. Louis Cardinals 6-1. With the Series tied at 3, Saberhagen was given the nod to start Game 7. Saberhagen threw a complete game five-hit shutout, defeating the Cardinals 11-0, and giving the Royals their first and only World Series title.
#20: Orel Hershiser, Los Angeles Dodgers
In 1988, Orel Hershiser put together one of the finest single seasons for a pitcher in modern history. He won 23 games, finished 15 games, and set a Major League record with 59.1 consecutive scoreless innings pitched.
In the postseason, Hershiser started Games 1 and 3 of the ALCS against the New York Mets, pitched a scoreless inning of relief to get the save in Game 4, and then won the deciding seventh game with a five-hit complete game shutout to send the Los Angeles Dodgers to the World Series.
In Game 2 of the World Series against the Oakland A’s, Hershiser threw a three-hit complete game shutout. Then in Game 5, Hershiser threw a complete game four-hitter, beating the A’s 5-2 to give the Dodgers the World Series title.
Hershiser became the first player in history to win the Cy Young award, the Championship Series MVP award, and the World Series MVP award in the same season.
#19: David Cone, New York Mets/Toronto Blue Jays/New York Yankees
In his 17-season career, David Cone was simply a big time pitcher. In 21 postseason appearances, Cone was 8-3 with a 3.80 ERA, and 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA in World Series appearances.
It was with the Yankees during their five straight pennants and World Series appearances when Cone was at his best. He was 3-1 in ALCS appearances with a 3.23 ERA, and manager Joe Torre was never afraid to give Cone the ball.
Rarely were the Bronx Bombers ever out of it with Cone on the hill.
#18: Cy Young, Boston Americans
It’s really too bad that Cy Young was approaching the end of his career by the time the World Series came around.
In the very first World Series ever played, Young, the winningest pitcher in MLB history, was 37 years old. Nonetheless he still won two games, pitching 34 innings total, helping the Americans/Red Sox to the victory. It would be Young’s only postseason appearance during his career.
#17: Jim “Catfish” Hunter, Oakland Athletics/New York Yankees
Hunter was an absolutely fearless pitcher who craved the ball for big games. In the A’s three-year championship run between 1972-74, he was 4-0 with a 2.19 ERA, and later for the Yankees, won two more championship rings in 1977 and 1978.
In 1972, with the A’s facing the Cincinnati Reds, Hunter won Game 2, beating the Reds 2-1 and pitching 8 2/3 innings, allowing just one run on six hits. In Game 6, Hunter came on in relief of starter Blue Moon Odom, going 2.2 innings allowing one run on one hit, securing the win and the World Series title for the A’s.
#16: Jerry Koosman, New York Mets
While Koosman may have won 200 games during his 19-year career, he also lost 200, giving him a lifetime winning percentage of just .515. However, the postseason was quite different.
In 1969, Koosman was the No. 2 starter for the Mets behind their ace and eventual Hall-of-Famer, Tom Seaver. The Mets surprisingly won the NL East title that year, coming from 9 ½ games back in mid-August to pass the Chicago Cubs. Then, in the first ever National League Championship Series, they defeated the Atlanta Braves to get to their first-ever World Series.
Facing heavy odds against the powerful Baltimore Orioles, ace Seaver lost Game 1. In Game 2, Koosman was brilliant, giving up just one run on 2 hits in 8.2 innings, giving way to Ron Taylor for the save. In Game 5, Koosman went the distance, allowing three runs on five hits in beating the Orioles, 5-3, giving the Miracle Mets their first World Series championship.
Koosman was also 2-0 during the 1973 playoffs, with the Mets losing to the A’s in the World Series. But Koosman cemented his place as a great big game pitcher, with a lifetime postseason record of 4-0.
#15: Josh Beckett, Florida Marlins/Boston Red Sox
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In recent years, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who comes up bigger in the postseason than Josh Beckett.
In three League Chamionship Series, one with the Florida Marlins and two with the Boston Red Sox, Beckett is 4-0. In the 2003 World Series, with the underdog Marlins facing the New York Yankees, Beckett was credited with the Game 3 loss in spite of pitching 7.1 innings of three-hit baseball.
But it was his Game 6 performance at Yankee Stadium that had everyone buzzing. Beckett threw a five-hit complete game shutout, defeating the Yankees and clinching the World Series for the Marlins.
In the 2007 playoffs, this time with the Boston Red Sox, Beckett once again dialed it up a notch, going a combined 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA, striking out 35 batters in 30 innings, leading the Red Sox to their second World Series title in four years.
Beckett has both the 2003 World Series MVP and 2007 ALCS MVP trophies on his mantel.
#14: Livan Hernandez, Florida Marlins
In 1997, the Florida Marlins called up Livan Hernandez from the minor leagues in midseason, and Hernandez would sparkle during the rest of the season with the big club, going 9-3 with a 3.18 ERA, helping the Marlins capture the wild-card and reaching the playoffs for the first time in their five-year history.
In Game 3 of the NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, Hernandez came on and pitched 1.2 scoreless innings to gain the win in the Marlins' 5-2 victory. In the pivotal Game 5, with the series tied at two, Hernandez pitched a complete game, allowing one run on three hits and striking out 15 Braves batters, giving the Marlins the 2-1 victory. They would go on to win Game 7 and reach the World Series for the first time.
Hernandez won Game 1, beating the Cleveland Indians 7-4. In Game 5, Hernandez gutted it out, throwing 142 pitches over 8.2 innings, allowing six runs on seven hits before giving way to Robb Nen for the save in the Marlins' Game 5 win, 8-7.
The Marlins went on to win the World Series on a dramatic 11th-inning single by Edgar Renteria to score Craig Counsell. Hernandez was voted the World Series MVP. For a kid who defected from Cuba only a year prior, it doesn’t get much more pressure packed than that.
#13: Red Ruffing, New York Yankees
Still the winningest right-handed pitcher in New York Yankees history, Red Ruffing was a bulldog when it came to the postseason.
In seven World Series appearances, Ruffing was 7-2 with a 2.63 ERA. In 1938, against the Chicago Cubs, Ruffing won both Games 1 and 4, throwing two complete games. In one stretch alone, Ruffing went 4-0 with four complete games and an ERA of 1.25.
#12: John Smoltz, Atlanta Braves
During his 21-year career, John Smoltz was asked to do it all and he did, without flinching. He is the only player in history to lead the Major Leagues in wins one year and saves in another year.
But it’s his remarkable postseason career that’s most impressive, 15-4 overall with a 2.67 ERA, along with four saves. In Division and Championship Series play, Smoltz was 13-2 with a 2.73 ERA. Even when it mattered most, in the World Series, Smoltz was 2-2 with a 2.47 ERA.
Smoltz was the hard luck-loser in one of the most incredible pitching duels in modern World Series history, going toe to toe with Jack Morris in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series between the Braves and Minnesota Twins.
#11: Carl Hubbell, New York Giants
Carl Hubbell was one the most feared pitchers in the game during the 1930s, and in 1933, he led the New York Giants to the World Series for the first time in nine seasons. After going 23-12 with a 1.66 ERA during the regular season, Hubbell was appearing in his first World Series.
Hubbell won Game 1 for the Giants, beating the Washington Senators 5-2, throwing a complete game five-hitter. In Game 4, Hubbell again went the distance, but this affair went into extra innings, with Hubbell allowing one run on eight hits in the Giants 2-1 victory.
The Giants clinched the Series in Game 5, and Hubbell cemented his place as one of the top pressure pitchers in baseball history.
In three World Series, Hubbell was 4-2 with a 1.79 ERA.
#10: Dave Stewart, Los Angeles Dodgers/Oakland A’s/Toronto Blue Jays
In his career, Dave Stewart absolutely OWNED the ALCS, compiling a record of 8-0 with a 2.03 ERA. In 1989, he not only owned the ALCS, but the World Series as well.
Pitching for the Oakland A’s against the Toronto Blue Jays, Stewart won both Games 1 and 5, with the Game 5 victory propelling the A’s to their second straight World Series appearance.
In the World Series against the San Francisco Giants, Stewart again showed his dominance, winning both Games 1 and 3, helping the A’s to a four-game sweep over the Giants, and collecting the Series MVP trophy.
Overall for his career, Stewart was 10-6 with a 2.77 ERA, but give him the ball during League Championship Series play, and there was no one better.
#9: Jim Palmer, Baltimore Orioles
During Jim Palmer’s 19 seasons, all with the Baltimore Orioles, he not only excelled during the postseason, but was the catalyst that helped get the Orioles there.
During Palmer’s career, he was 8-3 overall in the postseason, with a 2.61 ERA, winning three world championships in three separate decades.
During a stretch between 1970-73, Palmer was 5-0 in the postseason with a 2.75 ERA.
#8: Curt Schilling, Philadelphia Phillies/Arizona Diamondbacks/Boston Red Sox
Call him a blowhard, call him a loudmouth, call him anything you want. But one thing you can’t call Curt Schilling: a postseason failure.
During his career, Schilling was 11-2 in the postseason, with a 2.23 ERA. And in the World Series, he was 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA, his lone loss coming early in his career with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993.
Still think his bloody sock was filled with ketchup?
#7: Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers
During a five-year period between 1962-66, Sandy Koufax had arguably the greatest five-year stretch of any pitcher in modern Major League history.
Koufax was 4-3 lifetime in the postseason, with a 0.95 ERA. He gave up a grand total of six earned runs in 57 innings pitched. In 1963, facing the New York Yankees in the World Series, Koufax won two games, going the distance in both and allowing three runs and 12 hits in 18 innings, striking out 23.
In 1965, Koufax started three games against the Minnesota Twins. He threw three complete games, two of them were shutouts, and the Dodgers won their second World Series title in three seasons.
Imagine what Koufax could have done if he didn’t retire at the age of 30?
#6: Johnny Podres, Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers
Johnny Podres was still a kid at 22 when he was with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955. Just 9-10 during the regular season with a 3.95 ERA, the Dodgers won the pennant with a 98-65 record. With veterans Don Newcombe and Carl Erskine at the top of the rotation, and reliever Clem Labine pitching in with 13 wins, Podres wasn’t really looked at as being a major factor.
With the arch-rivals jumping out to a 2-0 Series lead, Podres started Game 3 in a must-win situation. Podres delivered, throwing a complete game victory to put the Dodgers back in the Series, 8-3.
The Dodgers took the next two games, leading the Series 3-2. The Yankees won Game 6 to send the Series to a deciding seventh game.
Podres was again called upon, and again he delivered, throwing a complete game eight-hit shutout, beating the Yankees 2-0 and giving the Brooklyn Dodgers their first-ever World Series victory.
In the two games that mattered most, Podres was there to save the Dodgers and finally put an end to their championship drought after 71 years of failing.
#5: Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees/Houston Astros
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Andy Pettitte has been known to have a cool and calm disposition, but when it comes to postseason play, Pettitte puts the game face on and delivers.
In 16 seasons, Pettitte has been to the postseason 13 times. He is now the all-time leader in victories with 19, and is 7-1 overall in ALCS play, with a 3.73 ERA.
In Pettitte’s last five postseason appearances (2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010), Pettitte is 9-2 with a 2.99 ERA, which includes three series clinching-victories in last year’s postseason, giving him six for his career.
Now that is money.
#4: Whitey Ford, New York Yankees
Still the all-time leader in World Series victories with 10, Ford was considered one of the greatest clutch pitchers in the history of baseball. He was nicknamed “Chairman of the Board” for his calm and collective manner during pressure-packed situations.
Eight different times Ford started Game 1 of a World Series. In 1960, then manager Casey Stengel changed his strategy, opting to hold Ford back until Game 3, a decision that still angers Ford to this day.
He went out and won both Games 3 and 6 with complete game shutouts, but was then unavailable for relief duty when Bill Mazeroski hit the walk-off game winning home run in Game 7, giving the Series to the Pirates.
Ford always maintained that if he had started Game 1 he could have won three games and avoided the Series loss. Stengel was fired following that Series loss.
Ford is still the all-time leader in World Series wins, losses, inning pitched and strikeouts.
#3: Babe Ruth, Boston Red Sox
When the Babe first broke into the majors, he was a left-handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Although he only pitched in two World Series, in 1916 and 1918, Ruth left an indelible mark.
His first World Series, against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Ruth started Game 2. He pitched a 14-inning complete game, allowing one run on six hits in the 2-1 Red Sox win.
Then, in 1918 Ruth again appeared in the Series, this time against the Chicago Cubs. In Game 1, Ruth threw a complete game shutout. In Game 4, Ruth won again, and the Sox won their second championship in three seasons. During the two World Series, Ruth set a record with 29.2 consecutive scoreless, which stood until Whitey Ford broke it in 1961.
When it came to the World Series, Ruth not only proved he could deliver for the New York Yankees with his bat later in his career, he proved what his arm could do with the Red Sox.
#2: Jack Morris, Detroit Tigers/Minnesota Twins
In two separate World Series for two different teams, Jack Morris showed the baseball world that when it came down to the nitty-gritty, he would take the ball and get it done.
His toughness in big games first appeared in the 1984 World Series, with the Detroit Tigers taking on the San Diego Padres. Morris won Games 1 and 4, helping the Tigers win their first World Series Championship since 1968.
Morris was back to the World Series again in 1991, this time with the Minnesota Twins. In one of the greatest World Series ever played, Morris was center stage. He got the Twins off to a running start, throwing a complete game victory over the Atlanta Braves, 5-2. In Game 4, Morris pitched six strong innings, leaving with a 2-1 lead. But the Braves came back, torching the Twins bullpen and winning, 3-2.
The see-saw battle went to a deciding seventh game after a dramatic walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th of Game 6 by the Twins’ Kirby Puckett.
Morris pitched was is arguably one of the greatest seventh games in the history of Major League Baseball, pitching 10 shutout innings, allowing seven hits, and the Twins winning it in the bottom of the tenth on a Gene Larkin sacrifice fly, scoring Dan Gladden.
Morris was the clear choice for the Series MVP, and will be known forever as on the greatest postseason performers in history.
And...The Winner Is...
#1: Bob Gibson, St. Louis Cardinals
In his 17-year career in which he won 251 games, Bob Gibson only made it to the World Series three times. But he made them memorable.
In 1964, after getting blown out by the New York Yankees in Game 2, Gibson came back in Game 5 and exacted revenge, getting the victory in a complete game effort, allowing two runs on six hits. In Game 7, on only two days rest, Gibson again went the distance, beating the Yankees 7-5 and giving the Cardinals their first World Series victory since since 1946.
In 1967, Gibson almost single-handedly won the World Series for the Cardinals, winning three games, going the distance in all three, and winning the Series MVP.
In 1968, the Cardinals were back once again, and Gibson was again in top form, winning Game 1 with a five-hit complete-game shutout over 31-game winner Denny McLain. In Game 4, Gibson once again beat McClain, this time a complete game five-hit victory, 10-1.
Game 7 was another complete game effort by Gibson, but this time, he was beaten by Mickey Lolich, as the Tigers won the Series for the first time since 1945.
Gibson lost both the first and last World Series games he pitched. But in between, he was 7-0 with seven complete games, two shutouts and 85 strikeouts.
No one in baseball history can match that stretch.