FOX Sports Exclusive
Top 10 playoff pitching matchups
Indeed, when (arguably) the two best pitchers in baseball take the bump in Game 1 of the NLCS, we’re expecting the final product to be of epic dimensions. Whether Doc and the Freak rise to meet those expectations remains to be seen, but the people demand — demand, I say! — that history be made.
And speaking of history, what’s the competition for Saturday’s pitched battle (pun totally intended) between Halladay and Lincecum? That is, what are the best pitching duels, in terms of both anticipation and results, in postseason history?
Before we answer that question, the criteria ...
First, it must be genuine pitching duel. Cy Young could punch his way out of the grave to face Pedro Martinez, but if one of them doesn’t have his grade-A stuff on that day, it’s not going to make the list.
Second, both starting pitchers must qualify as having had very good or even genuinely great careers (so no Jeff Weavers or Don Larsens to be found here). In other words, two top-tier pitchers must meet in the playoffs and rise to the occasion.
And without further qualification, the top 10 postseason pitching duels ever ...
10. 1950 World Series, Game 2 - Allie Reynolds (Yankees) vs. Robin Roberts (Phillies)
Yankee ace Reynolds (career winning percentage, .630) took on future Hall of Famer Roberts in this one. The results were predictable. Each man went the distance and allowed but a single run through nine innings. Then it fell to Joe DiMaggio to win it on a home run in the 10th. Both defenses were stellar, but the pitching was even better. In fact, the Yankee pitching was such throughout, as the Phils managed just a total of five runs in four games. As for Roberts, in Game 2 he lost the only World Series start of his 19-year career.
9. 1965 World Series, Game 7 - Sandy Koufax (Dodgers) vs. Jim Kaat (Twins)
Hall of Fame southpaw Sandy Koufax delivers during Game 7 of the 1965 World Series.
Look at Kaat’s line — 3.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER — and you might wonder what he’s doing on this list. However, consider the circumstances: Kaat (an eventual 283-game winner) was working on just two-days’ rest and kept the Dodgers off the board for the first three innings. The real story in this deciding Game 7 was Koufax. Koufax, also working on two-days’ rest (!), whiffed 10 on the day and worked a three-hit shutout. Considering the pressure and fatigue involved, Koufax’s outing must be considered one of the great performances in World Series history. Oh, and it was the lefty’s second shutout in three days.
8. 2001 NLCS, Game 1 - Randy Johnson (Diamondbacks) vs. Greg Maddux (Braves)
Mad Dog. The Big Unit. Nine Cy Youngs. The two future first-ballot Hall of Famers crossed swords in the opener of the 2001 NLCS. Maddux was efficient (two runs allowed in seven innings of work), but Johnson was dominant (complete-game shutout, three hits, 11 strikeouts, one walk, no runner past first base until the eighth). For Johnson, it was the first of five consecutive wins in the 2001 postseason.
7. 1986 NLCS, Game 5 - Dwight Gooden (Mets) vs. Nolan Ryan (Astros)
This taut encounter featured two of the blazing-est fastballs anyone’s ever seen. The game went 12 innings (pretty notable until you consider that Game 6 went 16 innings), and Gooden went 10 of them. Ryan, however, worked “merely” nine frames. Combined they struck out 16, walked three and gave up two runs. Ryan was more dominant on the day (12 of those 16 Ks and just two hits allowed), but Gooden’s Mets won the game and eventually the series.
6. 1957 World Series - Game 5, Whitey Ford (Yankes) vs. Lew Burdette (Braves)
Ford is known as one of the best big-game pitchers in the history of the game, but on this day Burdette (203 career wins) was his better. Burdette (perhaps aided by an illegal spitball) struck out five and surrendered neither a walk nor run. Ford slipped up in the sixth, when Joe Adcock singled home what would prove to be the lone run of the game. The Braves went on to take the series in seven games. In doing so, they won their first championship since 1914 and only championship as residents of Milwaukee.
5. 1974 ALCS, Game 3 - Vida Blue (Athletics) vs. Jim Palmer (Orioles)
Jim Palmer? Career 2.86 ERA and a deserving Hall of Famer. Vida Blue? For a time, he was one of the best anyone’s ever seen. And they were both in vintage form in Game 3 of the ‘74 ALCS. Palmer worked the full nine innings, and his only blemish was a fourth-inning solo shot by Sal Bando. Blue, meanwhile, allowed just two hits all day and struck out seven. Blue’s A’s went on to win the series in four games and before hoisting the World Series trophy for a third consecutive season.
Over the course of their long careers, Mathewson and Plank would combine for 678 wins. In other words, they’re two of the best pitchers ever to take the mound. In the second game of the 1913 World Series, both Mathewson and Plank held the opposition scoreless through nine innings. In the 10th, though, Plank unraveled after two singles and an error by second baseman Eddie Collins. Mathewson retired the side in the bottom half of the 10th to record his fifth and final World Series victory. (Aside: Can you imagine a 10-inning game being completed in just two hours and 22 minutes?) Plank would get his revenge, though, when he bested Mathewson in Game 5 to cinch the series for Connie Mack’s Athletics.
3. 1949 World Series, Game 1 - Allie Reynolds (Yankees) vs. Don Newcombe (Dodgers)
No Hall of Famers involved in this one, but Reynolds and Newcombe were stellar pitchers for many years and worthier than a few pitchers already enshrined. They were both certainly in top form in this contest. Reynolds, over the course of his shutout, allowed just two hits. Newcombe, meanwhile, whiffed 11 batters, walked none and shut down one of the game’s most powerful lineups until Tommy Henrich led off the ninth with a walk-off blast to deep right field. The Yanks went on to take the series in five games.
2. 1991 World Series, Game 7 - Jack Morris (Twins) vs. John Smoltz (Braves)
You know this one. Morris threw 10 shutout innings — a decided rarity in the modern era — and Smoltz worked 7.1 scoreless frames. The Braves threatened in the eighth when Terry Pendleton doubled with Lonnie Smith on first. But Smith held up at third, and his mistake cost the Braves dearly. In the home half of the 10th, Gene Larkin singled home Dan Gladden and his glorious mullet. The Twins were champs, and Morris was a World Series legend.
1. 1948 World Series, Game 1 - Johnny Sain (Braves) vs. Bob Feller (Indians)
It was the first World Series start of Bob Feller’s career, but the game would belong to 24-game winner Johnny Sain (of the famous doggerel, “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain”). Feller blanked the Braves until the eighth when they finally plated a run. However, Feller appeared to record the second out of the inning on a pickoff attempt of Boston catcher Phil Masi. Masi, however, was called safe, and the complexion of the inning changed. Feller gave up just two hits in eight innings of work, but Sain’s four-hit shutout earned Boston the win.
Your move, Roy and Tim.
More Stories From Dayn Perry