Commentary

Two of the best performances ever

Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum make top 10 all-time postseason list, but not in that order

Originally Published: October 15, 2010
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

Between Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum, within about 28 hours last week we were treated to two of the greatest pitching performances in postseason history.

Which got us to wondering where those games might rank, all time.

To that end, I started with Bill James' game scores, then made relatively small adjustments for the importance of the game, the score of the game and the quality of the enemy hitters. On the assumption that a 1-0 win in the seventh game of a World Series against a great-hitting team is somewhat more impressive than a 6-0 win in the first game of a division series against a weak-hitting team. (Also, I gave a couple of bonus points to Don Larsen and Halladay for, you know, pitching no-hitters.)

With those details out of the way (and with apologies to Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson and Brandon Backe), here's the list …


10. Bob Gibson (Game 1, 1968 World Series)
Coming off a season in which he posted a 1.12 ERA, Gibson opened the World Series by pitching a five-hit shutout and setting a Series record with 17 strikeouts. (Gibson would beat the Tigers with another five-hitter in Game 4, but lose a heartbreaking Game 7 to Detroit's Mickey Lolich, the hero of the World Series.)


9. Josh Beckett (Game 5, 2003 NLCS)
Beckett's Marlins entered Game 5 needing to win just to stay alive, as the Cubs held a 3-1 lead in the series. Beckett took care of that, tossing a two-hit shutout and striking out 11 Cubs (and walking just one). The Marlins, of course, returned to Chicago and took Games 6 and 7, too, on their way to the World Series (in which Beckett pitched another shutout to eliminate the Yankees).


8. Ed Walsh (Game 3, 1906 World Series)
Before strikeouts were cool, White Sox spitballer Ed Walsh struck out a dozen Cubs to help the South Siders toward one of the bigger upsets in World Series history.


7. Ken Holtzman (Game 3, 1973 ALCS)
Holtzman is hardly the most famous of the dynastic A's starters, as Catfish Hunter and Vida Blue and even Blue Moon Odom tend to be remembered first. But Holtzman's 2.30 postseason ERA with the A's was even lower than Hunter's 2.54 mark (and much lower than Blue's 4.31). And this was Holtzman's best game, as he went 11 innings to beat the Orioles 2-1, giving up three hits and one walk. Baltimore got their run on Earl Williams' second-inning home run; Oakland won the game on Bert Campaneris' leadoff homer in the bottom of the 11th.


6. Roy Halladay (Game 1, 2010 NLDS)
If my domicile weren't 2,883 miles away from Philadelphia, I might have given Halladay a couple more bonus points to push him a couple of spots higher on this list. But I think I'm safe. As long as I don't cross the Mississippi …


5. Tim Lincecum (Game 1, 2010 NLDS)
He struck out 14 Braves. He walked just one and gave up two hits. He didn't give up any runs at all. And throughout, just one swing of an Atlanta bat could have cost him the lead because Lincecum's Giants were managing just one run of their own.


4. Babe Ruth (Game 2, 1916 World Series)
OK, so it wasn't a shutout (the Babe gave up one run, on a first-inning, inside-the-park home run) or a particularly overpowering performance (only four strikeouts, plus three walks). It was sensational, though, as Ruth pitched 14 innings against the Brooklyn Dodgers, which was just enough as the Red Sox knocked home the winning run in the bottom of the 14th. (Two years later, in the 1918 World Series, Ruth beat the Cubs twice, giving up only two runs in 17 innings.)


3. Roger Clemens (Game 4, 2000 ALCS)
I was there at Safeco Field. Sitting in my own seat, using my season ticket. Along about the sixth inning, I asked my buddy, Scott, whether he wanted to see Clemens get the no-hitter. By then, the Mariners were already losing 3-0. He said, "No. I'm enough of a homer to want to break it up."

I wasn't (not for the Mariners, anyway). I wanted to see a no-hitter. But Al Martin, leading off the seventh for Seattle, lined a pitch into the right-field corner, just a few inches over Tino Martinez's first baseman's mitt. It was the only hit Clemens would give up. He also walked two Mariners and struck out 15. His 98 game score was the highest in postseason history. And still is.


2. Don Larsen (Game 5, 1956 World Series)
Perhaps too much has been made of Larsen's (shall we say) non-stardom. After all, he did post a 3.26 ERA in the regular season, second to only Whitey Ford among the Yankees' starters. Still, Larsen would have been pretty far down anyone's list to become the first man in World Series history to throw a no-hitter. Let alone a perfect game. Let alone against a Dodger lineup that featured four future Hall of Famers. And Larsen certainly couldn't relax. Not with his opposite number, Sal "The Barber" Maglie, giving up only two runs himself.

Maybe Larsen should be No. 1 on this list. But as good as he was, he struck out only seven Dodgers. In this heady company, he just wasn't quite dominant enough to make it to the top. Not of this list.


1. Dave McNally (Game 2, 1969 ALCS)
Pitching against a Minnesota team that had led the American League in scoring, Baltimore's McNally held the Twins scoreless through nine innings … and 10 … and 11. He gave up three hits and five walks, but also struck out 11. Finally, in the bottom of the 11th, pinch hitter Curt Motton delivered an RBI single to make winners of McNally and the Orioles (who would crush the Twins the next day to complete their three-game sweep).

Yeah. Dave McNally. It's been a good year for erstwhile Orioles. First Jim Gentile, and now McNally. If only he were alive to enjoy it.

Rob Neyer is a senior writer for ESPN.com and regularly updates his blog. You can reach him via rob.neyer@dig.com.