Even on a team with three stars in the starting rotation, Gerrit Cole has stood out in these playoffs.
The 29-year-old right-hander won twice for Houston in the AL Division Series, allowing only one run in 15 2/3 innings. He’ll take the mound Tuesday in Game 3 of the AL Championship Series against the New York Yankees, and if the Astros keep advancing, Cole could be well on his way to becoming the latest postseason pitching sensation.
If that happens, he’ll join an illustrious group. A great postseason (or two) can turn a journeyman into a household name – and an ace into a legend.
Here are the five different types of dominant postseason pitchers – the men who have made their mark from the mound:
The cream of the crop. These are the pitchers who delivered some of the most memorable postseason moments in baseball history. They are workhorse starters who were great for at least one terrific postseason run – and often more than that.
Madison Bumgarner won LCS and World Series MVP honors in 2014, finishing that postseason with four wins, 52 2/3 innings and a memorable five-inning save in Game 7 of the World Series for the Giants. Jack Morris went 3-0 during Detroit’s 1984 title run, then pitched a 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the ’91 series for Minnesota. Curt Schilling led Arizona to the title in 2001, then pitched through injury troubles when Boston broke its long championship drought three years later.
Justin Verlander pitched 17 scoreless innings for Detroit over the course of two decisive Game 5s in the ALDS, in 2012 and 2013 against Oakland.
The expanded playoffs have given these standouts more chances to shine, but even before divisional play, there were some remarkable performances. Sandy Koufax had a 0.95 ERA in eight World Series games and was MVP in ’63 and ’65. Bob Gibson made nine World Series starts, going 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA and winning MVP twice. His St. Louis Cardinals lost the 1968 series to Detroit, but he struck out 17 in Game 1.
The 1905 World Series is noteworthy for the performance of Christy Mathewson, who threw three shutouts in a six-day span.
No discussion of great postseason pitchers is complete without mentioning dominant relievers – they’ve become too important in today’s game.
According to thebaseballgauge.com, Mariano Rivera ranks No. 1 in career ”championship win probability added” – a stat that adjusts win probability figures depending on how important the game was to a team’s chances of winning the World Series. Rivera posted a 0.70 ERA in 141 postseason innings, while consistently being used in high-leverage spots for the Yankees.
Oakland’s Rollie Fingers was the MVP of the 1974 World Series. For his career, he went 4-4 with a 2.35 ERA in the postseason, throwing 57 1/3 innings in 30 relief appearances.
OUT OF NOWHERE
Some of these pitchers had solid careers, but none were Hall of Famers. What they did do was pick a good time to be at their best.
Art Nehf won the clinching game of the 1921 and 1922 World Series for the New York Giants, the former with a 1-0 shutout of the Yankees. Lew Burdette was an All-Star in 1957, albeit with just a 3.72 ERA. He reached another level for Milwaukee in the World Series that year with three complete game victories, including a shutout of the Yankees in Game 7.
Johnny Podres was barely 23 when he pitched a shutout at Yankee Stadium in Game 7 to give Brooklyn a long-awaited World Series title in 1955.
Ralph Terry was the man who allowed Bill Mazeroski’s World Series-winning homer in 1960, but two years later he came through in a big way for the Yankees, throwing a shutout in Game 7 against the Giants, a tense 1-0 victory for New York.
Josh Beckett was the MVP of the 2003 World Series for the Marlins. Although the rest of his career didn’t quite live up to that promise, he also earned ALCS MVP honors in 2007 as part of Boston’s run to a title.
Some of the most impressive single-game pitching performances in postseason history:
Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series is an obvious example, as is Roy Halladay’s no-hitter for Philadelphia in a 2010 Division Series game.
Baltimore’s Dave McNally threw an 11-inning shutout in a 1969 ALCS game, and Babe Ruth pitched 14 innings in a 2-1 victory for Boston in the 1916 World Series.
Roger Clemens struck out 15 for the Yankees in a one-hit shutout in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS against Seattle.
In Game 5 of the 1999 ALDS, the Red Sox and Indians were tied at 8 in the fourth inning. Then Pedro Martinez came on in relief and put a stop to that slugfest, pitching six hitless innings in Boston’s 12-8 win.
VALIANT IN DEFEAT
These pitchers were on the wrong end of the final outcome but had no reason to hang their heads.
John Smoltz pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings opposite Morris in that incredible Game 7 in 1991. Smoltz was just beginning what would turn out to be a fine postseason career.
Mike Mussina allowed one run in 15 innings in two ALCS starts in 1997, but his Orioles lost both those games – and the series – to Cleveland. Mike Scott gave the Mets fits in two NLCS starts in 1986, but New York advanced past Houston without having to face him a third time.
Information from Baseball-Reference.com was used for this story.
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