20 Most Clutch Pitching Performances in MLB Postseason History

Jeffrey BeckmannCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2011

20 Most Clutch Pitching Performances in MLB Postseason History

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    The first week of the 2011 postseason has been relatively quiet as far as clutch moments go, but there is still plenty of time for playoff heroes to be born.

    In recent years, we've been told over and over again that in today's baseball, pitching wins championships. I beg to differ—slightly.

    Throughout baseball history, pitching has always won championships. It's not a revelation from the post-steroid era, nor is it anything new. Home runs win games, yet it takes great pitching to win the title.

    The 20 players on this list have taken the mound with force when it mattered most for their respective teams—in the postseason. Whether it be Game 1 of the Divisional Series or Game 7 of the World Series, a pitcher can cement their place in baseball history during one nine-inning game.

    Here are the "20 Most Clutch Pitching Performances in MLB Postseason History."

20. Jim Palmer, Baltimore Orioles: Game 2, 1966 World Series

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    Line: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 6 K

    As a 20-year-old making his first World Series appearance, Jim Palmer was faced with the daunting task of going up against Sandy Koufax.

    Palmer stymied the Dodgers' hitters en route to a complete-game shutout, helping the Orioles in their march to a four-game sweep.

    Palmer was the youngest pitcher ever to toss a shutout in the postseason. The record still stands today.

19. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies: Game 1, 2010 NLDS

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    Line: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K

    Roy Halladay had consistently been one of the top pitchers in baseball during his time with the Toronto Blue Jays, making six All-Star appearances and even winning a Cy Young Award in 2003. The only thing Halladay hadn't conquered was the postseason.

    That would change in 2010, when Doc threw a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds during his first career postseason start in 2010. He'd been ready for October for a long time.

18. Art Nehf, New York Giants: Game 8, 1921 World Series

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    Line: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 5 BB, 3 K

    Not many people will recognize the name Art Nehf, yet the lefty out-dueled Wait Hoyt in Game 8 of the 1921 World Series to beat their crosstown rivals for the championship. 

    Nehf is one of two pitchers in Major League Baseball history to have two 1-0 victories in the postseason by way of a complete-game shutout.

    He pitched a 12-inning complete game during Game 1 of the 1924 World Series while also pitching the clinching game of the 1922 World Series.

17. George Earnshaw, Philadelphia Athletics: Game 4, 1931 World Series

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    Line: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K

    When Babe Ruth and the Yankees took a three-year hiatus from 1929-31, George Earnshaw was shouldering the load while leading the Athletics to the World Series.

    Down 2-1 in the series to the Cardinals, Earnshaw's complete-game shutout notched the series back at two games apiece.

    The year before, during the 1930 Fall Classic, Earnshaw pitched 25 innings in a span of seven days, allowing only two runs on 13 hits. 

16. Orel Hershiser, Los Angeles Dodgers: Game 2, 1988 World Series

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    Line: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K

    The day after Kirk Gibson's infamous walk-off home run off Oakland A's closer Dennis Eckersley, Orel Hershiser stepped to the mound to finish what Gibby had started.

    Hershiser had also blanked the New York Mets during Game 7 of the NLCS before getting the World Series-clinching victory in Game 5 after allowing two runs through nine innings.

    The 1988 postseason performance by Hersisher was one of the most impressive runs in Major League Baseball history.

15. Whitey Ford, New York Yankees: Game 1, 1961 World Series

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    Line: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 K

    There was no other person the Yankees would want starting a Game 1 of the World Series in the early 1960s than Whitey Ford—and for good reason.

    Ford won four of his eight Game 1 starts in the World Series, but none were as clutch and tone-setting as his gem in 1961.

    There was no other pitcher his teammates would rather have on the mound in a must-win game, and he continuously came through for them.

14. Tom Glavine, Atlanta Braves: Game 6, 1995 World Series

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    Line: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 8 K

    The Braves offered many a letdown during their nearly two-decade run of NL East dominance, but 1995 was the season it all came together.

    Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine would all prove they could get the job done when it mattered most, yet Glavine's name was called when it was finally time to bring it home.

    Up 3-2 in the series over the powerful Cleveland Indians, Glavine tossed eight innings of one-hit ball to win World Series MVP and the only championship of the Bobby Cox era.

13. Bob Gibson, St. Louis Cardinals: Game 1, 1968 World Series

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    Line: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 17 K

    Game 1 of the 1968 World Series pitted AL Cy Young winner Denny McLain against NL Cy Young winner Bob Gibson. 

    Gibson ended the season with a modern-day record 1.12 ERA and clearly had the upper hand going in. He struck out 17 batters to set a postseason record which still stands to this day.

    There have been 51 occasions where a pitcher has thrown 10 or more strikeouts in a game during the World Series. Gibson himself did it five times.

12. Babe Ruth, Boston Red Sox: Game 2, 1916 World Series

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    Line: 14 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 4 K

    Most people know that Babe Ruth spent some of his early years with the Red Sox on the mound instead of in the batter's box, but who would have ever thought Ruth pitched a 14-inning game in the World Series?

    The 21-year-old Ruth allowed a first-inning inside-the-park home run before tossing 13.1 straight shutout innings to seal the victory for Boston, who would later win the World Series.

11. Josh Beckett, Florida Marlins: Game 6, 2003 World Series

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    Line: 9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 9 K

    No one believed the Florida Marlins could make it to the 2003 World Series, let alone defeat the New York Yankees when they actually got there. 

    Beckett proved the doubters wrong by scattering five hits over nine innings against a potent Yankees lineup, giving the Marlins their second World Series championship.

    Beckett also tossed a gem during Game 5 of the NLCS that season against the Chicago Cubs, helping Florida rebound from a 3-1 series deficit with a two-hit, 11-strikeout performance.

10. Pedro Martinez, Boston Red Sox: Game 5, 1999 ALDS

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    Line: 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 8 K

    This was no ordinary gem for Pedro Martinez, who was coming off a Cy Young season that saw him go 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA.

    Pedro pitched four shutout innings during Game 1 of the series before leaving with an ailing lower back, and as far as anyone knew, the Cleveland Indians wouldn't be facing him again in the series.

    Tied 8-8 in the fourth inning of Game 5 with everything on the line, Martinez surprisingly took his walk to the mound and delivered in a huge way.

    Pedro shut down one of the most ferocious lineups in MLB history for six innings to seal the win and help his team to the ALCS.

9. Dave McNally, Baltimore Orioles: Game 2, 1969 ALCS

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    Line: 11 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 11 K

    You have to give credit to a pitcher who went 11 strong innings during the ALCS, especially seeing as it was against a Minnesota Twins club who led the American League in scoring that season.

    Dave McNally was finally rewarded for his effort when teammate Curt Motton delivered an RBI single in the 11th inning to win the game. The Orioles would win the following day to sweep the series.

8. John Smoltz, Atlanta Braves: Game 7, 1991 NLCS

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    Line: 9 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K

    While he allowed seven men to reach base during Game 7 of the 1991 NLCS, a young John Smoltz pitched impeccably out of the stretch to shut down Barry Bonds and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    This was also Atlanta's first time back in the playoffs in more than a decade and they were one year removed from a 65-97 record, which was the worst mark in baseball.

    Although they would lose in the World Series, this was the beginning of an unforgettable run by the Braves in the NL East.

7. Mariano Rivera, New York Yankees: Entire Career

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    Line: 8-1 W/L, 140 IP, 0.71 ERA, 0.764 WHIP, 42 SV

    I am breaking my own rule by including Mariano Rivera on this list, but it's impossible to keep a pitcher with his playoff numbers off of a list comprised of great playoff pitchers.

    An argument can be made for Rivera being the most clutch pitcher of all time. He may not start games in the postseason, but he's finished more games in the playoffs than most closers do through an entire season.

6. Curt Schilling, Boston Red Sox: Game 6, 2004 ALCS

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    Line: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 4 K

    In 19 career postseason starts, Curt Schilling allowed two runs or fewer during 15 of them. None, however, were as clutch as his "Bloody Sock Game."

    Schilling had given up six runs over three innings in Game 1 as the Red Sox fell behind 3-0 in the series.

    After David Ortiz led the Red Sox to two victories, Schilling underwent a procedure to suture the tendon in his ankle in hopes that he'd be able to take the mound for Game 6.

    That's exactly what he did, allowing only a solo home run over seven innings to force a Game 7.

5. Christy Mathewson, New York Giants: 1905 World Series

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    Line: 27 IP, 13 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 18 K

    One of the greatest pitchers of all time, Mathewson tossed three complete-game shutouts in leading his Giants to a World Series title over the Philadelphia Athletics.

    This kind of performance is unheard of in today's day and age. 

    Carried by Mathewson's mound dominance, the Giants won the series in five games.

4. Jack Morris, Minnesota Twins: Game 7, 1991 World Series

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    Line: 10 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 8 K

    Jack Morris' performance during Game 7 of the 1991 World Series is the primary reason he's on the cusp of being a Hall of Famer.

    Morris had a tendency to show up in clutch situations, which he proved by tossing 10 shutout innings against the Atlanta Braves on the biggest stage in baseball.

    The 1991 Fall Classic is regarded as the greatest World Series ever played, thanks in large part to Morris' memorable gem.

3. Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers: Game 7, 1965 World Series

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    Line: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 10 K

    Taking the mound for Game 7 of the World Series is a scenario every young pitcher dreams of.

    Sandy Koufax showed up to the ballpark that day not knowing whether he or Don Drysdale would be getting the start. Koufax would be on two days rest, so many believed Drysdale would get the nod instead.

    Koufax proved to the world that manager Walter Alston made the right call, tossing a gem of a game to bring the title to Los Angeles. 

    Through 57 innings in the postseason, Koufax had an impeccable 0.95 ERA.

2. Randy Johnson. Arizona Diamondbacks: Game 2, 2001 World Series

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    Line: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 11 K

    The Big Unit showed up in a big way during the 2001 World Series, beginning with his Game 2 shutout to give the Diamondbacks a 2-0 series lead.

    After the Yankees won the next three games, Johnson stormed back to the mound to win Game 6 to force a seventh game.

    That paved the way for the most clutch moment of his career, as he entered Game 7 in the eighth inning the following night. Johnson pitched one and one-third shutout innings, earning his third victory of the World Series when the D-backs walked off in the bottom of the ninth inning.

1. Don Larsen, New York Yankees: Game 5, 1956 World Series

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    Line: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K

    Don Larsen tossed the first and only perfect game in postseason history during Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.

    There have been only 18 perfect games in the 111-year history of Major League Baseball, yet Larsen threw one on the sports' biggest stage after showing up to the ballpark that afternoon not even knowing whether he'd be on the mound.

    It doesn't get any more clutch than that.


    Jeffrey Beckmann is a MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Jeffrey on his new Twitter account for all of his latest work. You can also hear him each week on B/R Baseball Roundtable.