Over the years, October has been the time of the year for which baseball fans yearn. The drama and thrill of postseason baseball is among the greatest shows in American sports. Legacies are sculpted in October, players are immortalized and teams written in stone.
Great hitters such as Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson (and 25 other Yankees) have wowed with the wood, while others, such as Ozzie Smith, have put on sudden, clutch power displays.
Infamy has stalked many a postseason athlete, whether it be a blown save or a late-game error. Managers have been exulted or scorned for brilliant lineup and pitching decisions or boneheaded moves (ahem, Dusty Baker).
However, nothing quite garners respect like dominant postseason pitching. While hitters can be clutch, this is still a pitcher's game, and dominant pitchers can literally define an entire postseason through their own efforts.
It is here that we will count down the top 15 single postseason performances by the great hurlers through the years, documenting their brilliance.
Yes, Don Larsen had a fantastic game—the first perfect game in postseason history. But it was only one game. Unfortunately, the definition of this list is a complete postseason.
In the 1956 World Series, against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Larsen made postseason and baseball history, twirling a perfect game. It was truly a phenomenal feat, something that baseball will forever remember.
Don Larsen might have set the precedent for superior postseason pitching, but it is the athletes that follow who raised the bar even higher.
Age: 26 H: 25 SO: 43
IP: 41.1 ER: 10 W/L: 4/1
GP: 5 CG: 1 SHO: 1
While Tim Lincecum's postseason was good by the numbers, the true reason the Lincecum warrants a spot on this list is the opposing pitchers that he beat. In the first game of his postseason career, Tim threw a complete-game, two-hit, 14-strikeout shutout masterpiece that dramatically introduced Lincecum to the rest of the world (at least those who didn't realize that his back-to-back Cy Young Awards were no fluke).
In that game he bested Derek Lowe, a proven postseason pitcher who was dominant for the Red Sox earlier in the decade. It was in the NLCS that he began to flex a little bit of muscle, beating Roy Halladay in Game 1. He wasn't dominant like his first game, but his effort got the job done against a very good Philadelphia offense in a hitters' ballpark.
Then in the World Series, the top pitching matchup of the last 40 years was set: Cliff Lee, the postseason juggernaut and Tim Lincecum, the Freak.
Their first game was far from awesome, but the clinching game, a rematch in Game 5, was everything everyone hoped for. Tim Lincecum got the best of Lee, throwing eight innings, allowing only one run—a home run to Nelson Cruz—and striking out 10 in the process.
This cemented his performance as one of the greatest in a single postseason, and it's a vital reason why the Giants captured their first World Series.
Age: 23 H: 21 SO: 47
IP: 42.2 ER: 10 W/L: 2/2
GP: 6 CG: 2 SHO: 2
Josh Beckett's career finally took off after the Florida Marlins won the World Series, when no one gave them any chance at all. They were the surprise team of the postseason to begin with, and no one expected them to get very far in a field of excellent teams such as the Giants, Cubs, and Yankees.
However, an upstart rookie named Miguel Cabrera and a young stud named Josh Beckett turned the tides. It was Beckett's pitching that really took off in the NLDS against the powerhouse Giants, a lineup that included Barry Bonds. His complete-game loss in Game 1 was Florida's lone setback in the series.
In the NLCS, Beckett struggled in one appearance, but threw a complete game shutout in the next. He was so dominant that he was brought back a third time in a relief appearance later in the series.
The World Series was even better for Beckett, as he threw another complete game shutout against the indomitable Yankees. He then threw another dominant game, allowing two runs over seven-and-one-third innings, helping cement a World Series win for the upstart Marlins.
Although he was traded to the Red Sox prior to the 2006 season, he will forever be remembered by Florida fans for helping bring them a World Series title in a most unexpected fashion.
Age: 36 H: 35 SO: 22
IP: 36.1 ER: 9 W/L: 4/0
GP: 5 CG: 1 SHO: 1
Jack Morris spent only one season with the Minnesota Twins, his hometown team, and it was towards the end of his career. He was always a good pitcher, never great. His lowest career ERA was 3.05, but usually it was in the high threes to low fours. He was in contention for a few Cy Young Awards, mostly due to his win/loss record which was usually superb.
However, in 1991, the 36-year-old Morris strolled into Minnesota and posted one of his best seasons, going 18-12 with a 3.43 ERA, the fifth lowest of his long career. But in the postseason he really made his mark on Twins lore, helping lead his team to a championship.
While his ALCS was less than stellar, he won both of his starts. In the World Series, he cemented his place in postseason history. He made three starts, winning two of them and pulling a no decision in the other. He posted a 1.17 ERA.
His crowning moment came in the winner-take-all Game 7. Having to face a high-powered Atlanta lineup and an even better Atlanta pitching staff, Morris threw 10 shutout innings, earning the win and the championship for the Twins. It was a truly dominant performance, and Morris will be forever remembered and defined by it.
Age: 23 H: 13 SO: 4
IP: 17 ER: 2 W/L: 2/0
GP: 2 CG: 1 SHO: 1
You forgot about him, didn't you? The Bambino was one heck of a pitcher and one heck of a Red Sox player, before he became one of the greatest hitters of all time and the greatest Yankee of all time. Just goes to show what a pure baseball player this man was.
In 1918, an infamous year for Red Sox fans, Boston hit the top of the baseball world. Babe Ruth was the ace of the staff, oddly enough, and proved his dominance in the World Series against the Cubs with one complete game shutout, and one eight-inning, two-run performance. Ah, and he also posted a .800 OPS— just a fun fact.
That year, however, will only be known as the year that The Curse of the Bambino started, as it was the last year that the Sox won a World Series until the modern era in 2004. However, at the time, the Red Sox were on top of the world. They had a stud pitcher and a great hitter all in one man, and they had won three of the last four World Series titles. It was only the calm before the storm so to speak, as the franchise had many a dark year ahead of it.
Age: 31 H: 23 SO: 10
IP: 28.2 ER: 3 W/L: 0/2
GP: 3 CG: 3 SHO: 0
This photo does the great Christy Mathewson absolutely no justice. However, it is not the picture that needs to give him justice, as just his name itself warrants respect.
In the 1912 postseason, Mathewson faced off against the Red Sox, who at the time were emerging as the dominant team of the decade. Although he never won a game in the series, he threw three complete games, spanning more than 27 innings, while only allowing three earned runs.
Although Mathewson was near the end of his career, he displayed as much poise and as much dominance as he had his entire professional career. And although the Giants lost the series, Christy Mathewson still shined as bright as ever.
Age: 27 H: 19 SO: 35
IP: 30 ER: 4 W/L: 4/0
GP: 4 CG: 1 SHO: 1
Josh Beckett was coming into super stardom with the Red Sox, displaying his skills as being tops in the big leagues. He threw hard, had a dirty curveball and had mastered the art of the strikeout. The Red Sox had already broken the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 as an underdog, but in 2007 they were considered the best team in Major League Baseball.
Heading into a 2007 postseason in which they were a favorite to take the title, their hopes were resting on a powerful offense and a pitching rotation anchored by Beckett.
And did he ever anchor that rotation. His only start in the ALDS was a complete-game shutout, and his two starts in the ALCS resulted in a total of 14 innings pitched with only three earned runs surrendered. In the World Series, the Red Sox were so dominant that Beckett only had to make one start.
This start was against the upstart Colorado Rockies, a team built for offense with the slugging Todd Helton and Matt Holliday beefing up the middle of their lineup. However, they proved no difficulty for Beckett, who threw seven innings while only allowing a single run, cementing his dominant postseason pitching and the dominant postseason by the Red Sox.
Age: 41 H: 9 SO: 19
IP: 23 ER: 0 W/L: 3/0
GP: 3 CG: 0 SHO: 0
The oldest man on this list, Kenny Rogers had a very successful career. His last major hurrah came in the 2006 season, culminating in the 2006 playoffs, where he showed that he still had a lot left in his aging body.
Facing the Yankees in the ALDS, the A's in the ALCS, and finally the Cardinals in the World Series, Rogers made one start in each series. In the ALDS, he dominated the Yankees over seven-and-two-thirds innings, not allowing a run. And then again, in the ALCS, he shut down the A's over seven-and-one-third innings.
In the World Series, the Cardinals came in with a less-than-stellar regular-season record. However, they rolled over the Tigers, beating them in five games. The only game that the Tigers won was pitched by Kenny Rogers, and he once again was masterful.
Through eight innings, Kenny Rogers once again did not surrender a single run. He only allowed five baserunners in total. However, there was some controversy as a brown substance was found on Rogers' pitching hand. Forced to wash his hands during the game, he came out and looked as brilliant as ever. And although his career didn't end there, as he pitched two more seasons, his legacy was finalized on that mound, and his career defined.
Age: 25 H: 13 SO: 13
IP: 21.1 ER: 0 W/L: 2/0
GP: 3 CG: 0 SHO: 0
For a first-career postseason, this one was particularly spectacular. Cain became the fourth pitcher ever to make his first three postseason starts without allowing a run over at least six-and-two-thirds innings per start. He was the steady horse in the Giants' dominant postseason pitching rotation of 2010.
In his NLDS start he gave up a lone unearned run over six-and-two-third innings, his shortest start of the postseason. If not for a massive letdown by the bullpen, Matt Cain would have had an easy win.
During the NLCS against the heavily-favored Philadelphia Phillies, Cain gave the Giants a 2-1 series edge after shutting out the much hyped Phillies' offense over seven innings of work. He out-dueled a confident Cole Hamels.
In the World Series against the slugging Texas Rangers, Cain once again threw a shutout over seven-and-two-thirds innings, giving the Giants a 2-0 edge in the series before it went back to Arlington. More importantly, he stabilized the series after a wild 11-7 game in which a highly-touted Lincecum-Lee matchup did not come to fruition. From there, the Rangers would never gain momentum. The Giants would win the series before Cain could make another start, cementing his dominant postseason in the history books.
Age: 37 H: 25 SO: 47
IP: 41.1 ER: 7 W/L: 5/1
GP: 6 CG: 2 SHO: 2
In 2001, the Diamondbacks literally rode the arms of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson to the World Series. Randy Johnson was 37 but throwing as hard as ever, and the Big Unit was still intimidating to even the most fearless hitters of the time.
In the 2001 playoffs, Johnson was considered second to Schilling by many, but you would never be able to guess by the way Randy threw. In the NLDS, he wasn't brilliant, but good enough, surrendering three runs over eight innings of work.
However, it was in the NLCS and the World Series that Randy Johnson really showed his dominance, throwing two complete-game shutouts while picking up five wins. He picked up three of those wins in the World Series, finishing the last game and picking up the win after Luis Gonzalez's dramatic walk-off hit.
Although Randy Johnson had a stellar career, finishing with record statistics in strikeouts and ERA and recording 300 career wins, this was his only solid postseason performance. And was it ever fantastic.
Age: 34 H: 25 SO: 56
IP: 48.1 ER: 6 W/L: 4/0
GP: 6 CG: 3 SHO: 1
While it is almost impossible to be the pitching stalwart on a staff that also includes the aforementioned Big Unit, Curt Schilling did just that. And although Schilling will always be best remembered for his legendary bloody sock and key role in ending of the Curse of the Bambino, it should not be overlooked just how dominant he was in the 2001 postseason for the Diamondbacks.
The man averaged eight innings a start and just n single earned run per start. His NLDS was stellar, throwing two complete games, one being a shutout. In the NLCS he only had to make one start, throwing a complete game and giving up only one run. He also made three starts against the powerhouse Yankees, allowing only four earned runs through 21.1 innings pitched.
Curt Schilling may be known for a really awesome sock which auspiciously adds to the postseason drama that was the first Red Sox World Series victory since 1918. He should also be recognized for his dominant 2001 postseason which culminated in a Diamondbacks championship in only their fourth season as a franchise.
Age: 30 H: 27 SO: 33
IP: 40.1 ER: 7 W/L: 4/0
GP: 5 CG: 2 SHO: 0
Cliff Lee was the 2008 Cy Young Award winner, but he had been having a tough year in 2009 with the Cleveland Indians. However, upon being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, the defending champions, he took off and asserted his status as an elite pitcher in the league.
However, it was the 2009 postseason that really made Cliff Lee a household name, where he emerged as one of the great postseason pitchers, even with the limited games.
With the toughest task in the National League for the Phillies being the Colorado Rockies in the NLDS, Lee was forced to make two starts, winning both while only surrendering two earned runs. In the NLCS, the Phillies quickly dispatched the Dodgers, and Lee only made one start, throwing eight shutout innings.
In the World Series, the Yankees dominated the Phillies thoroughly, except for the fact that they could not beat Cliff Lee. The Yankees offense was clicking on all cylinders, with Mark Texiera and Alex Rodriguez having career postseasons, and the likes of Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter were kicking in with crucial offensive spark. But they could not solve Lee.
Cliff Lee dominated the best that baseball had to offer in 2009, and started his own legacy of postseason greatness.
Age: 33 H: 15 SO: 27
IP: 30 ER: 4 W/L: 3/0
GP: 4 CG: 0 SHO: 0
Hernandez had a funky delivery, an awesome nickname ("El Duque") and was a decent pitcher in his career. However, he will always be remembered for his phenomenal 1999 postseason. While he was pitching for a fantastic team, they needed his dominance in 1999 to take home the title.
The Yankees cruised through the ALDS, and Hernandez only had to make one start, shutting out the Rangers through eight innings, only allowing two hits.
The ALCS had more competition for the Bronx Bombers in the form of Boston Red Sox, and El Duque had to make two starts, in which he only three earned runs through a total of 15 innings.
The World Series was also simple for the Yankees as they dominated the Braves. Orlando had to make one start, in which he allowed only one run and picked up a win in seven innings, helping secure the 1999 World Series title for the Yankees.
El Duque might have been a rather mediocre pitcher who didn't quite live up to the hype, but he had one of the best postseasons in history in 1999.
Age: 29 H: 25 SO: 29
IP: 24 ER: 1 W/L: 2/1
GP: 3 CG: 2 SHO: 2
Possibly the greatest pitcher of all time, Sandy Koufax made his mark on baseball's postseason with his phenomenal 1965 performance against the Twins in the World Series.
He pitched three times in the seven game series, in Games 2, 5 and 7, Koufax had two complete-game shutouts, with one in Game 7 to clinch the series. He was named the MVP, the second time he had won the honor in his career. Interestingly enough, the only game he didn't win was one he went six innings in while only allowing one earned run, not good enough for the rather anemic Dodgers' offense.
A team built around pitching, Sandy Koufax exemplified the essence of the Dodgers at the time, and he was the face of pitching of Major League Baseball. Many believe that it was bringing back Koufax for Game 7 after only two days rest that contributed to his later, and massive, arm problems.
Regardless, Sandy Koufax's achievements throughout his career cement him as one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, and his 1965 World Series performance can be added to the list of greatest pitching postseasons of all-time.
Age: 21 H: 18 SO: 18
IP: 27 ER: 0 W/L: 2/1
GP: 3 CG: 3 SHO: 1
Unfortunately, there is no picture on this database for Waite Hoyt which is almost fitting, as he sometimes gets lost in the postseason picture. Everyone knows him as one of the dominant pitchers in the game, right up there with Christy Mathewson, but sometimes his postseason debut is forgotten.
It was 1921 when Hoyt made his postseason debut with the Yankees at age 21 against the New York Giants, who they would face in the World Series for the next three years. Hoyt pitched three games in a series that the Yankees ultimately lost.
He won one of those games even though he did not give up a single earned run in the series—only two unearned runs—split between the two complete games that unfortunately cannot be characterized as shutouts.
Through the entire series he only allowed an average of one base runner per inning, and while his K/BB ratio was not excellent, he succeeded anyways against a very good Giants squad.
Waite Hoyt had a 21-year career, an astounding accomplishment for any athlete. And while his success fluctuated from year-to-year between stellar and poor, he would never again accomplish anything as fantastic as his very first postseason performance.
Age: 24 H: 13 SO: 18
IP: 27 ER: 0 W/L: 3/0
GP: 3 CG: 3 SHO: 3
Ah that photo again. Its killing me that I can't honor the best pitcher of all-time with a more appropriate photo. Alas, that is not my job. My job is to honor him through the account of his 1912 postseason appearance in the World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics, a series in which he was downright dirty.
In a five game span, Mathewson started three games and finished three games, shutting out the A's through all of them. That's right: 27 innings, three wins, no runs allowed. Dominant.
It took me a while to comprehend the mastery that Mathewson displayed in his first postseason at the tender age of 24. I was initially incredibly impressed with Matt Cain's first postseason, which inspired me to write this article.
So let us compare the two. Ok, take a year off Cain's age, same experience level, add five-and-two-thirds innings, which leads us to three complete game shutouts. Compress the time span from 14 games to five games, and from about three weeks worth of time to about one week and from three different series to one single series of ultimate importance.
What a completely awe-inspiring postseason performance. It must have been just amazing to behold. Christy Mathewson is definitely in the conversation for the best pitcher of all-time, and he definitely had the best single postseason of any pitcher. He is truly a great ballplayer, he was a great athlete and a great man. His actions on the field truly helped define a young game into the spectacle it is today.