Oakland A's: Ranking the 10 Greatest Pitching Performances in Team History

Clarence Baldwin Jr@2ndclarenceAnalyst IMay 11, 2013

Oakland A's: Ranking the 10 Greatest Pitching Performances in Team History

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    Since the team moved from Kansas City to Oakland 45 years ago, the A's have largely been a team built on great pitching. Whether it was Charley Finley's Mustache Gang, the 1981 "Billyball" club, the Walter Haas owned/Tony LaRussa run team from 1988 to 1992 or Billy Beane's Moneyball teams, Oakland has always won with great pitching.

    As such, there have been great pitching performances—some in the regular season, others in the playoffs or even the World Series. Finding the 10 best is a matter of circumstance and history. It is also highly subjective. Having followed this franchise since 1985, I have seen good, bad and ugly. But it has almost always been interesting. 

    With that said, here's a nice look back in to time. Here's my list for the 10 greatest pitching performances in Oakland A's team history. 

    *Stats are courtesy of "Baseball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.

10. Barry Zito's Forgotten Gem (Game 3, 2001 ALDS)

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    History is never kind to the losers, no matter what the endeavor. Sports is, by far, the best example of this axiom. 2001 is remembered as the year that the Oakland A's, loaded with talent and up 2-0 over the New York Yankees, lost three straight and the American League Division Series, 3-2.

    The iconic image from that series is from Game 3, with Derek Jeter's out-of-nowhere flip to the play from up the first base line to nail a non-sliding Jeremy Giambi at the plate and keep the score 1-0 Yankees. That would remain the score.

    And while Mike Mussina's gem is memorable, he was arguably outpitched by his counterpart, Barry Zito. A year before, Zito had forced the 2000 ALDS back to Oakland with a Game 4 victory over Roger Clemens in Yankee Stadium.

    In 2001, Zito was looking to close the Yankee dynasty. And to his credit, Zito was absolutely fantastic—eight innings, one run on just two hits and six strikeouts. One pitch, a solo home run by Jorge Posada was all the Yankees could muster. But because of Jeter's play or Giambi's blunder, it would be all the Yankees needed. 

    Sadly, Zito's performance would have been good enough to win any of the other four games in the series. But it did not win Game 3, and the best of the Moneyball A's would be vanquished (again) by the Yankees.

9. Blue Moon Odom Tames the Tigers (Game 2, 1972 ALCS)

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    The 1972 Oakland A's were slight favorites over the American League East champion Detroit Tigers in that year's American League Championship Series. The best-of-five series got off to a bang as the A's responded to Detroit scoring in the top of the 11th inning with two runs of their own to walk off with a 3-2 win.

    Game 2 would offer no such dramatics. Oakland starter John "Blue Moon" Odom threw the game of his life. A three-hit shutout powered Oakland to a 5-0 win and a commanding two-game lead in the series. Odom's performance was so efficient he would be handed the ball four days later in Detroit's Tiger Stadium with the pennant up for grabs.

    Combining with Vida Blue, Odom held the Tigers to a first inning unearned run and the A's would beat Detroit 2-1 for the first of their six pennants in the East Bay. But it was his Game 2 performance that set the tone for what was to come with that team.

8. Dave Stewart Outduels "The Rocket" (Game 1, 1990 ALCS)

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    One of the great things about Tony LaRussa's Oakland A's of the late 1980s and early 1990s was the rivalry between Dave Stewart and Boston Red Sox ace Roger Clemens. 

    Actually, the great irony of the time is that it was not really a rivalry at all. From the time the A's acquired Stewart in 1986 to his last great year for the club (1990), Stewart owned Clemens. In head-to-head matchups in that time frame Dave Stewart was 9-0 against Roger Clemens. Stewart is the only pitcher in history to defeat Clemens so one-sided.

    So going into the 1990 ALCS, the favored A's basically were seen as being more than capable of beating the Red Sox to reach their third straight World Series. That is, unless Clemens had three masterful starts and Boston managed to win one of four other games.

    The first game was exactly what it was expected to be—a pitcher's duel between two aces. Clemens actually held up his end of the bargain, throwing six shutout innings. But manager Joe Morgan mysteriously pulled Clemens out with the Sox leading, 1-0, and Clemens having thrown only 97 pitches.

    Meanwhile, Stewart was a horse. Over eight brilliant innings, he allowed just four hits and a walk, with just one run while striking out three. Stewart's brilliance enabled the A's to get to Boston's shaky bullpen to the tune of solo runs in the seventh and eighth innings and then seven runs in the ninth to bust the game open.

    The 9-1 win set the tone for a dominant pitching-led sweep that saw Stewart again dominate Boston in the Game 4 clincher while Clemens was ejected for arguing balls and strikes after allowing three runs in the second inning. 

7. Tim Hudson Delivers a Division Title (2000 Season Finale)

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    A personal favorite of mine, the No. 7 performance on this list belongs to former A's ace Tim Hudson. Back in 2000, the plucky A's had won 21 of 27 games to put themselves in a "win and you're in" scenario on the final game of the regular season.

    Facing the last-place Texas Rangers, it wasn't expected to be more than a formality, particularly with a struggling pitcher in Ryan Glynn starting for the Rangers. This was especially true considering the A's had defeated Texas in the previous game, 23-2.

    Instead, the A's would squander chance after chance, and through six innings, they had not scored. As it stood, they would have all the time they needed.

    That's because Hudson was simply masterful. Striking out 10 and allowing just six hits, Hudson was never seriously threatened in the game, and the A's broke through with an RBI single by Ramon Hernandez in the seventh inning. They then broke it open with home runs by Randy Velarde and Olmedo Saenz in the eighth. 

    After closer Jason Isringhausen shut the game down, Oakland had won its first division title since 1992, and Hudson won his 20th game in grand fashion. 

6. Mike Warren Says No-No to White Sox (September 29, 1983)

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    When your career lasts only three abbreviated years and your career ERA is 5.06, there is not much to remember. Except for former Oakland A's pitcher Mike Warren, one of his 27 career starts was one for the ages. 

    On September 29, 1983, Warren was a rookie making his ninth career start. And it was not against another team playing out the string like the A's but the powerhouse Chicago White Sox. Led by Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk and sluggers like Harold Baines, Greg Luzinski and Tom Paciorek, the White Sox would slug their way to 99 wins and their first division title.

    But on this cool Oakland night, Warren was masterful. Facing just two hitters over the minimum of 27, Warren no-hit Chicago while walking three and striking out five. It remains one of the most surprising no-hitters not just in A's history, but in baseball history. And in Oakland lore, it is warranted of a place on this list.

5. Dave Stewart No Hits Toronto (June 29, 1990)

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    Making his second appearance is Dave Stewart. This was not one of his brilliant starts in the postseason, but his best regular-season start. On June 29, 1990, Stewart would dominate the potent Toronto Blue Jays.

    The result was his only no-hitter at the then state-of-the-art Toronto SkyDome. This is another favorite of mine, having watched the great Monte Moore and some guy named Ray Fosse call the game on the A's television network.

    From the start, Stewart was dominant. His specialty pitch, a biting forkball, baffled Toronto's hitters all game long. Striking out 12, Stewart would fan every Toronto hitter, except George Bell. The A's offense gave him early run support with two home runs by both Dave and Rickey Henderson. 

    At that point, it was just a matter of if Stewart would finish the deal. The only at-bat that was close to a hit came in the fourth inning on a liner from Tony Fernandez that Mark McGwire made a nice backhand stop and then flipped to Stewart to get the out.

    Afterward, that icy glare of Stewart dominated the day. The last out came off the bat of Fernandez and the A's mobbed Stewart while the classy Toronto crowd saluted him with a standing ovation. 

    The irony is, Stewart's no-hitter was not even the only one of that night. Los Angeles Dodgers' pitcher Fernando Valenzuela would no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals at Dodger Stadium later that night. 

4. Vida's Stuff Is "True" as He No Hits Minnesota Twins (September 21, 1970)

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    In many ways, Vida Blue used a no-hitter as a springboard to legitimate superstardom in the early 1970's. A high profile rookie, Blue first true found himself in the public consciousness after a magnificent performance in September 1970. 

    Against the eventual AL West champion Minnesota Twins, Blue was overpowering. He would strike out nine, walk just one, and face one over the minimum while no-hitting the Twins. His performance had America's attention.

    The next season, he would own the spotlight of the baseball world. Posting a 24-8 record with a 1.82 ERA and 301 strikeouts, Blue was the Cy Young and MVP and started the All-Star Game for the American League. He would appear on the cover of Time Magazine and clearly establish himself as a marquee name in American society.

    However, it all began that night on September 21, 1970. 

3. Dallas Braden Is Perfect on Mother's Day (May 9, 2010)

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    It doesn't get much better than perfect, does it? Well, Dallas Braden would attest to that. In front of a modest Mother's Day crowd on May 9, 2010, Braden faced and retired 27 Tampa Bay Rays hitters for the second perfect game in Oakland A's history. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

    Braden may have had special motivation that day. His mother, Jodie Atwood, died of cancer when Braden was in high school. His grandmother Peggy Lindsey, who raised him after his mother passed, was in attendance at the Oakland Coliseum.

    The A's spotted Braden 4-0 lead after four innings, and after that, it was simply a matter of whether Braden could stay perfect. Gabe Kapler, whose blast to deep center was caught by DeWayne Wise to preserve Mark Buerhle's perfect game in 2009, gave Braden his toughest at-bats. A 12 pitch at-bat in the sixth inning ended in a foul out. 

    In the ninth, Kapler was ahead 3-1 in the count before swinging and grounding out to A's shortstop Cliff Pennington to end the game. Braden was mobbed by first baseman Daric Barton and the rest of the team before sharing an emotional embrace with his grandmother near the A's dugout. 

2. Catfish Hunter Catches a No-Hitter Against Twins

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    Dallas Braden's perfect game was the second in Oakland A's history. The first belonged to pitching legend, Jim "Catfish" Hunter. This game was amazing by Hunter in more ways than one. Not only did it have the best pitching score (98), his 11 strikeouts are the most for a perfect game in MLB history.

    But beyond Hunter's pitching brilliance, it was what he did to help his own cause. Hunter went 3-for-4 with three RBI to spark Oakland to a 4-0 victory. That remains largely overshadowed in one of the greatest performances in baseball history by a pitcher. 

    The future Hall of Famer had his best performance that May evening in Oakland. But I don't think it is the A's best performance—or even Hunter's best performance. 

1. Catfish Wins Hall of Fame Duel to Keep A's Alive in 1973 Series (Game 6, World Series)

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    Okay, so how is a great, but not legendary, start by a Hall of Fame pitcher better than a perfect game by not one but two pitchers?

    Simple, this is a list of performances by the Oakland A's—not individual pitchers. While Catfish Hunter and Dallas Braden were perfect and Vida Blue, Dave Stewart and Mike Warren threw no-hitters, none of those starts came in what were huge stakes games.

    Well, the No. 1 choice for this list could not have come at a bigger moment. Heavy favorites to repeat as world champions, the 1973 A's returned from New York City down three games to two against the underdog—but scrappy—New York Mets

    Catfish Hunter took the mound for Game 6 opposed by someone who had established himself as a big-game pitcher four years previous: Tom Seaver. The two future Hall of Famers would battle, but it was Hunter who was the better man that day

    In the history of the Oakland A's, there were likely only two bigger-stakes games. One was Game 7 in the 1972 World Series. And Blue Moon Odom only lasted 4.1 innings before a relief crew of Ken Holtzman, Rollie Fingers, and yes, Catfish Hunter brought home Oakland's first world championship.

    Fast forward a year later, Hunter was his typical controlled self, going 7.1 innings and allowing just four hits a run with a single walk and strikeout, exciting with a 2-0 lead. The A's would hold on for a 3-1 win. The next day, the A's would win 5-2 and capture their second of three straight titles. 

Honorable Mention

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    So there you have it. Those are 10 of the most enduring performances by A's pitchers in history. But I would be remiss if I didn't include a few who might not have been as good, but certainly were memorable.

    • Dave Stewart's complete game in Game 5 of the 1992 ALCS that kept the A's alive against the eventual World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays.
    • Barry Zito outpitching Cy Young winner Johan Santana in Game 1 of the 2006 ALDS and setting the tone for the A's three-game sweep and first postseason win in 16 years.
    • Brett Anderson's six shutout innings in Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS to keep the A's alive against the Detroit Tigers. 

    Now comes the part where you mention games I forgot or tell me what is too high, too low, doesn't deserve mentioning. You know, the comments. I look forward to it.