NLCS 2010: Giants vs. Phillies and the Top 10 Pitching Matchups in MLB History
The 2010 National League Championship series between the San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies has already given us some sterling starting pitching. Despite what a few of the the classier Philly fans believe.
Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum hooked Cy Young horns in Game 1 and, though neither was on top of his superlative game, they still managed to whiff 15 batters in an evenly split 14 combined innings.
Roy Oswalt and Jonathan Sanchez dueled in Game 2 with the Phillies' ace walking away the better man on the evening. The midseason acquisition spun eight frames of three-hit ball, surrendering Cody Ross' fourth postseason big fly in the fifth inning as his only blemish.
Sanchez wasn't quite as dirty, but he managed five erratic innings while only allowing two earned runs to a vastly superior offense.
And the fun isn't over yet.
With the seven-gamer knotted at a game apiece, the Gents and Phightin's will give us at least three more scintillating matchups between starting pitchers.
Matt Cain and Cole Hamels will reignite hostilities when the series opens in the City on Tuesday, and we'll probably see rookie phenom Madison Bumgarner before another dose of Doc Vs. the Franchise in Game 5.
Depending on how the contests unfold, we might see one crack this list of the top 10 pitching matchups in the history of Major League Baseball.
The neat thing about ranking couplets of pitchers is that the era doesn't really matter—since both individuals are throwing in the same game, they're playing by the same rules.
Granted, that gives an overwhelming statistical advantage to the early epochs of MLB when pitchers would routinely go nine strong, but c'est la vie.
Additionally, you could make the argument that hurlers from the Dead Ball Era and such are at a disadvantage because—almost literally—shutouts and one-hitters were everyday occurrences. In other words, it's harder for the old-timers to distinguish themselves.
In any event, what follows is the 10 best matchups according to (A) combined in-game performance, (B) anticipation prior to the clash, and (C) profile of the individual starters (All Stars, Cy Youngs, Hall of Famers, etc.).
Note that the last two points give a considerable edge to postseason pairings since the schedule allows for most rotations to be rested and set up perfectly i.e. you'll see aces face each other far more frequently in October and November thanks to the deep breaths in between rounds.
However, there is a crush of articles listing the "best-ever playoff matchups" in circulation at the moment, so I made an effort to use a healthy infusion of regular-season games.
No. 10: Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling Draw in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series
Schilling—7.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, and a no decision
Clemens—6.1 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K, and a no decision
It gives me no joy to list these two jackasses here.
I loathe them both, but the fact remains that they were incredible pitchers and Schilling was even better in the postseason.
On Nov. 4, 2001, these elite starters did their billing proud. It was supposed to be a titanic clash of big game pitchers and it certainly was.
Though both would blink momentarily and neither would be around for the unforgettable ending, they still managed give one of the best World Series in recent memory an appropriate send off.
Or at least the beginnings of one.
No. 9: Sandy Koufax No-Hits Bob Hendley and the Chicago Cubs
Koufax—9 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 14 K, and a win
Hendley—8 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, and a loss
On September 9, 1965, the Chicago Cubs played the willing lambs marching into the slaughter of Sandy Koufax' magical left arm. Twenty-seven Cubbies trudged to the plate, and 27 Cubbies trudged back to the dugout—14 with absolutely nothing to show for their three strikes.
The Dodger southpaw was in what would ultimately be his second-to-last season so his reputation was already etched in stone, but the perfect game was the cherry on top of the Hall of Fame sundae.
In other words, it was quite an effort by a legend.
On the other side, Hendley couldn't contend with Koufax on paper, but he did one hell of job for one day.
Only an unearned run in the fifth inning would mar his trip to the mound. Unfortunately for him, that was more than enough for his opponent.
No. 8: Roy Halladay Is Perfect; Josh Johnson Is Only Excellent
Halladay—9 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 11 K, and a win
Johnson—7 IP, 7 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, and a loss
For a while there, Josh Johnson was forcing his name into the NL Cy Young discussion. Sadly, a premature end to his 2010 season put the kibosh on such talk, but not before he bore witness to one of the finest pitching performances in the history of the game.
And, just for good measure, the young Florida Marlin chipped in quite an effort himself.
His seven hits and one walk look downright unsightly next to Doc's perfect line, but that's kind of the idea—Halladay was so good on May 29, 2010, even a superb pitching line looks grotesque by comparison.
In typical Roy Halladay fashion, he didn't just throw a perfect game—such pedestrian acts are for true mortals. Doc isn't a god, he just plays one on the mound so he filleted 11 Fish for good measure while setting down 27 in the order presented.
With the benefit of hindsight, this matchup might climb higher or fall into oblivion. The choice is Josh Johnson's.
No. 7: Sandy Koufax Edges Whitey Ford for the 1963 World Series Sweep
Koufax—9 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, and a win
Ford—7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, and a loss
Ugh, I'm getting a little sick having to keep putting a Bum on the list, but such is life when you objectively look at the great Sandy Koufax.
The Left Arm of God was in full swing on Oct. 6, 1963 against the New York Yankees. The Dodgers had already moved to Los Angeles and were in the process of winning their second Fall Classic since following the example of the pioneers. LA would win in a four-game sweep with their star of stars putting the exclamation mark on the affair.
Only a long ball from Mickey Mantle shattered the goose egg Koufax had working.
Though the Chairman of the Board did his darnedest to keep the Bums from clinching, he wasn't up to the tall task as the Dodger lefty befuddled the Bombers for nine strong innings.
Ford would match him after serving up an early tater to Frank Howard until an unearned run in the seventh created a one-run deficit and forced him from the game when his spot in the order came up in the top of the eighth.
And that was it—Koufax would cruise home and it was off to the fishing hole for Ford and his Yanks.
No. 6: Randy Johnson Torches Greg Maddux and the Atlanta Braves
Johnson—9 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, and a win
Maddux—7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, and a loss
There were few pitchers more intimidating than Randy Johnson at the height of his powers. Physically, there was probably none more terrifying than a 6' 10" string bean who slings smoke from a low three-quarters release.
Psychologically, however, Greg Maddux might've given the Big Unit a run for his money.
Opposing hitters had to get the cold sweats and spins when they confronted how incompetent a professorial little right-hander with a fastball in the low 90s/high 80s could make them look. And with such cold-hearted ease.
On Oct. 16, 2001 in Game 1 of the NLDS between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Atlanta Braves, the two forces from different ends of nature's spectrum collided in the desert. When the atomic dust settled, Johnson was left standing, courtesy of a shutout and 11 whiffs.
Maddux answered the bell, too, just not as well—he coughed up an earnie in the first and fifth innings before giving way to the Brave bullpen.
Nevertheless, two first-ballot Hall of Famers clashed with high stakes and performed wonderfully. Good enough for No. 6, even.
No. 5: Christy Mathewson Beats Chief Bender for 1905 World Series Title
Mathewson—9 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, and a win
Bender—8 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K, and a loss
I don't think that's a shot of Charles Albert Bender at the 1905 World Series after watching Christy Mathewson throw his third consecutive shutout, but I'm sure it's a decent approximation of how ol' Chief must've been feeling on Oct. 14, 1905.
No shame there, though. When two Hall of Famers meet up, one of 'em is bound to end up looking pretty glum.
On this afternoon, it was the Philadelphia Athletics' ace of aces. Despite a fine turn against a dangerous New York Giant lineup, he wasn't quite good enough because of his opponent.
Mathewson had arguably the greatest postseason the Show has seen from a pitcher—three starts in the Fall Classic, three nine-inning blinders that never saw an A cross the plate.
The hard-throwing righty saved his best for the clincher, stifling any hope Philly had of coming back from a three-games-to-one abyss.
The Giant was the star of this show, but it's Bender's brilliance that keeps it in the top five.
No. 4: Hippo Vaughn Throws 9 No-Hit Frames, Fred Toney Throws 10
Toney—10 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, and a win
Vaughn—10 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 10 K, and a loss
Hippo Vaughn tossed for the Chicago Cubs, need I say more?
On a cold day with the wind blowing in at Wrigley Field—which was called Weeghman Park on that particular May 2, 1917—both Vaughn and his Cincinnati Red counterpart Toney had their good stuff working in a favorable pitching environment.
Obviously, the results validate the claim.
Neither pitcher gave up a hit through nine innings and the game ended after 10 frames with neither pitcher surrendering an earned run.
However, Hippo got touched for a one-out single, a two-out butcher job on a routine fly ball, and an infield single from Jim Thorpe—yes, that Jim Thorpe.
The sequence produced the only run of the game and Toney would retired the side without issue to finish his 10-inning no-hitter.
You'll almost certainly never see another 10-inning no-no, but you definitely will never see two nine-inning no-hitters in the same game.
Only the relative anonymity of Toney and Vaughn keep this in the No. 4 hole.
No. 3: Jack Morris Goes 10 Innings to Beat John Smoltz, Win Game 7
Morris: 10 IP, 7 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, and a win
Smoltz: 7.1 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, and a no-decision
John Smoltz will walk right into the Hall of Fame, that much is obvious. Jack Morris hasn't gotten his call yet and a lot of people will tell you that's a cryin' shame. I'd probably be in that group, which is why this game ranks so high on the list.
You could make a strong argument that Oct. 27, 1991 was on the front edge of the Steroid Era and that only makes Morris' feat for the Minnesota Twins in Game 7 of the '91 World Series that much more incredible.
But, even if you don't buy the chemical enhancement angle, the ornery ace's accomplishment was still quite fine.
It's one thing to go 10 shutout frames in an era that had already seen the advent of closers and middle relievers. It's another to do so in the biggest game a professional baseball player could ever take part in—Game 7 of the Fall Classic.
And it's another thing to do it when you absolutely have to, when you're up against a fellow flamethrower who's throwing stink. That's precisely what the Twinkie did—outdueling his studly adversary and winning the clincher for the Twin Cities.
Yeah, yeah, Smoltzie hadn't quite established himself as a dominant, Cy Young force.
Anyone who remembers those Atlanta Braves teams remembers Smoltz was merely the least adorned of the Big Three, but that didn't mean his stuff lacked for anything.
No. 2: Harvey Haddix Throws 12 Perfect Innings and Loses to Lew Burdette
Burdette—13 IP, 12 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, and a win
Haddix—12.2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, and a loss
There are hard luck losers, there are guys who really get screwed, and then there is Harvey Haddix.
The lefty made three All-Star appearances and won three Gold Gloves, so an official perfect game would've been a really nice notch to add to his major-league bedpost. Especially since he retired 36 straight batters against the Milwaukee Braves on May 26, 1959.
Yeah, a perfect game requires 27 up and 27 down, yet Kitten did that and then some—nine Braves worth of "some."
Sadly for the untouchable starter (and in an omen of abhorrent futility to come), the Pittsburgh Pirates couldn't scratch the plate for a run against Lew Burdette.
The Milwaukee right-hander scattered 12 baserunners over 13 innings and used impeccable control to neutralize the Buccos until the killer combo of an error, a sacrifice bunt, and a game-winning double (with an intentional walk in between) ended the affair.
Had either Haddix or Burdette been bigger names, this bad boy would be No. 1.
No. 1: Juan Marichal Beats Warren Spahn 1-0 in 16 innings
Marichal—16 IP, 8 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 10 K, and a win
Spahn—15.1 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, and a loss
Call me a homer if you must, but there is no better pitching matchup in the history of professional baseball than this blinder from two Hall of Famers.
Juan Marichal was a nine-time All Star who finished in the top 10 of Most Valuable Player balloting three times. Meanwhile, Warren Spahn was a 14-time All Star who finished in the top 10 of MVP voting 5 times and took home the 1957 NL Cy Young award.
Though Spahn's trophy case was more crowded and boasted the illustrious Cy Young, the Dominican was dandier on July 2, 1963 in Candlestick Park (though it should be noted Spahn was 42 while the Dominican Dandy was a fresh-faced 25-year-old).
The Giants and Milwaukee Braves could must absolutely no offense for 15 innings as the all-timers threw bagel after bagel on the scoreboard.
Despite offenses littered with such heavy hitters as Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, and Orlando Cepeda, neither club could push across a run until the Say Hey Kid blasted a walk-off solo bomb in the bottom of the 16th.
Perhaps the most staggering factoid of all? The game—all 94 outs—took only four hours and 10 minutes.
Marichal and Spahn were suffocating, durable, and efficient while pitching to their legendary reputations.
Which is why their combined gem is the best pitching matchup in the history of Major League Baseball.