Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Most Dominant World Series Pitching Performances (Part II)

1920 World Series

The 1920 Fall Classic pitted the Cleveland Indians against the Brooklyn Robins. The Series is best known for an unassisted triple play turned by Indians' second baseman Bill Wambsganss in Game 5--the only play of its kind in the postseason. The performance by Cleveland hurler Stan Coveleski has faded into the mists of time. There were no pitch counts in those days and hurlers were often scheduled to start on short rest. Coveleski made three starts in an eight-day span, winning all of them. He went the distance each time, allowing just 15 hits and 2 runs in 27 innings of work. There was no Series MVP award back then, but he would likely have won it. Among the last legal spitballers, Coveleski averaged 15 wins per year during his 14 major league seasons. He made it to the Hall of Fame in 1969.

1957 World Series

For one week in October of 1957, Burdette was on the same pedestal as his more heralded staff mate, Warren Spahn. The Braves entered the Series as heavy underdogs and emerged with a surprising seven-game victory over one of the most powerful Yankee squads of all time. Like Coveleski in 1920, Burdette made three starts in an eight-day span and won all of them. His opponents included World Series heroes Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Enos Slaughter. After allowing just 2 earned runs in Game 2, Burdette put the finishing touches on his career-defining performance by throwing two straight shutouts. He retired ten straight batters in Game 7, but nearly faltered at the end. With 2 outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, he induced a harmless grounder off the bat of Moose Skowron to end the Series. He was fittingly named MVP.

1965 World Series

Koufax, who was once referred to as "The Left Hand of God," was no stranger to dominant postseason performances. After losing to Koufax twice in the '63 World Series, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra said: "I can see how he won 25 games. What I don't understand is how he lost 5." Facing the Twins in the '65 Fall Classic, Koufax made waves by refusing to pitch the opener because it fell on Yom Kippur. Penciled in as a second game starter, he suffered a minor sixth inning meltdown and ended up being pulled (though only 1 of the 2 runs he gave up was earned). In Game 5, he was brilliant, scattering 4 hits and striking out 10 in a 7-0 win. With the Series knotted at three games apiece, he took the mound again and didn't disappoint. On three days rest, he tossed a 3-hit shutout. Koufax retired with a lifetime postseason ERA of 0.95.

1968 World Series

Lolich once described himself as "the beer drinker's idol" and this is the performance that put him on the map. The good-natured southpaw won 17 games during the so-called "Year of the Pitcher" then outperformed Cardinals' ace Bob Gibson in the '68 Series. The premier pitcher of the era, Gibson struck out 35 batters in three starts but it was Lolich who captured Series MVP honors with 3 victories and a 1.67 ERA. Lolich's strongest outing came in Game 7, when he allowed just 1 run on 5 hits. In his previous two starts, he struck out 17 batters. A perk of being named MVP, he was invited by Vice President Hubert Humphrey to watch the Apollo 8 liftoff at Cape Canaveral.

1991 World Series

The '91 Fall Classic between Minnesota and Atlanta is considered one of the greatest ever played. Five of the seven games were decided by a single run, four were won in the final at-bat and three stretched into extra innings. It was one of the most widely watched World Series with the second largest television audience in history. Morris was right in the thick of the excitement. "I knew everybody was watching," he said years later. "How much fun is that? I mean, I pitched games in Cleveland when there were 250 people in the stands and 200 of them were related to somebody on the field and the rest were only there for the beer...To be on the stage when the whole world is watching, if you don't relish that, you're in the wrong business." Morris fared extremely well against Atlanta's potent lineup, getting a win in Game 1 and a no-decision in Game 4 (while allowing just 1 run in 6 innings). In the deciding contest, he out-dueled John Smoltz for a 1-0 series-clinching victory. In that outing, he faced 38 batters over 10 frames while scattering 7 hits. The Twins have not won a World Series since.

2001 World Series

Among the tallest pitchers ever to take the mound at 6-foot 10, Johnson was fast enough and wild enough to scare batters. After winning 21 games and capturing an ERA title in 2001, he effectively derailed the New York Yankee offense in the World Series. The irascible left-hander tossed a 3-hit, complete game shutout in Game 1, striking out 11 batters. In Game 6 he was at it again, punching out 7 pinstriped opponents in a 7-inning stint that ended in a 15-2 Arizona blowout.  When the Series went to seven games, "The Big Unit" was called to the mound with two outs in the top of the eighth and the Yankees leading, 2-1. He retired each of the four batters he faced and picked up another win as the Diamondbacks staged a shocking comeback against Mariano Rivera. 

2014 World Series

In an era of pampered pitchers, Bumgarner's performance in the 2014 World Series was quite remarkable. After shutting down the Kansas City offense for 7 innings in Game 1, he went the distance in Game 5--allowing just 4-hits while striking out 8. And then, on short rest, he was called to the mound in the fifth inning of Game 7. 68 pitches later, he had preserved a Series victory for the Giants. He was truly deserving of the MVP trophy.             

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Most Dominant World Series Pitching Performances (Part I)

Game 5 1956 World Series

To date, Larsen's perfect game is still the only one in World Series history. Years after the fact, he remembered: "I was so happy, I felt like crying." In a comical understatement, an Associated Press writer asked him if it was the best game he ever pitched. He used 97 pitches to complete his masterpiece and issued three balls to just one Dodger hitter--Pee Wee Reese. Yogi Berra said that Larsen didn't shake off a single sign that day. Larsen's feat was especially impressive considering the batters he had to face. In addition to aforementioned Reese, he squared off against Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges and Roy Campanella. Interestingly, Larsen threw out the ceremonial first pitch before David Cone's perfect game forty-three years later.

Game 2 1916 World Series 

Some people forget that Ruth was a pitcher before he became an outfielder. After leading the Red Sox staff with 23 wins, he started Game 2 of the 1916 Fall Classic against the Brooklyn Robins. To accomodate more fans, the game was played at cavernous Braves Field in Boston. The deep dimensioins worked against Ruth in the first inning when Brooklyn's Hi Myers found a gap in deep right-center field, circling the bases with an inside-the-park homer. It was the only run Ruth allowed all afternoon. In the bottom of the third, he tied the game with an RBI ground out. He was still on the mound when the game meandered into the fourteenth inning. He faced 48 batters and allowed just 6 hits in a 2-1 Boston win. No pitcher has ever lasted that long in a single series game. The game itself was the longest in history until Game 3 of the 2005 Fall Classic. 

Game 1 1968 World Series

The fearsome Gibson was unapproachable even to teammates on the days he started and once referred to himself as "an asshole." He compiled a 7-2 lifetime record in postseason play with a 1.89 ERA. His finest single game effort came in Game 1 of the '68 Fall Classic, when he struck out 17 Tiger batters--an all time record. Interestingly, 3 of the 5 hits he allowed that day came off the bats of infielders Don Wert and Mickey Stanley, who had combined for a .230 average during the regular season. Gibson completed a shutout and went on the win Game 4 by a score of 10-1. The Tigers finally tagged him for 4 runs in Game 7, winning the Series over the Cardinals. 

Game 6 1926 World Series

Alexander's performance in Game 7 of the '26 Fall Classic gained lasting acclaim. With the Series tied at 3 games apiece and the Cardinals clinging to a 3-2 seventh inning lead over the Yankees, St. Louis player/manager Rogers Hornsby summoned Alexander to replace Hall of Famer Jesse Haines, who had developed a blister on his pitching hand. With 2 outs and the bases loaded, Alexander struck out the dangerous Tony Lazzeri to end the threat. He held the Bombers scoreless in the eighth and ninth as well, clinching a Series victory for the Cardinals. But "Old Pete's" performance the day before was even better. With the Cardinals on the brink of elimination, he went the distance in a 10-2 win. What made his appearance especially notable (aside from the fact that he was facing one of the greatest teams of all time) was his age. At 39 years, 7 months, he became the older pitcher in Series history to throw a complete game. 

1905 World Series

It's hard to determine which game of the '05 Fall Classic Christy Mathewson was most dominant in. Mathewson, who was the face of the Giants franchise in those days, had captured a triple crown (the first of two) during the regular season. His performance in the Series is considered by many to be the greatest of all time. After refusing to face Boston in the 1904 postseason, Giants owner John T. Brush worked out his differences with rival American League magnates. The '05 Fall Classic--just the second official World Series in history--pitted Brush's Giants against Connie Mack's A's. Mathewson disposed of his Philadelphia opponents with uniform precision. In Games 1 and 3, he tossed a pair of 4-hitters while striking out 14 batters. In the fifth game, he clinched the Series for New York with another shutout--this one a five-hitter. By the time the A's scored off Mathewson in Game 1 of the 1911 World Series, he had completed 28.1 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason--a record later broken by Babe Ruth and Whitey Ford.     


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Baseball's 40/40 Club

Only four players have ever hit 40 homers while stealing 40 bases in the same season. Remarkably, none of them are in the Hall of Fame.

Though Canseco became a pariah in later years, he left a lasting impression on the sport in 1988 when he clubbed a league-leading 42 homers and swiped 40 bags for the A's. His 40th homer came on September 18 while facing Bret Saberhagen of the Royals. He recorded his 40th stolen base five days later against the Brewers at County Stadium in Milwaukee. When Mickey Mantle learned of Canseco's feat, he commented: "Hell--If I'd known 40-40 was going to be a big deal, I'd have done it every year." Mantle collected 40 or more homers four times and finished in double digits for stolen bases in six consecutive seasons. His lifetime success rate as a base-stealer was 80 percent compared to Canseco's 69 percent. Canseco vastly overestimated his own running abilities. In his 2005 tell-all book, Juiced, he claimed to have run a 40-yard dash in 3.9 seconds. For the record, no athlete in any of the four major sports has ever recorded a time that fast.  

The first National League member of the 40/40 club, Bonds accomplished the feat before he was linked to steroids, which makes 1996 the most remarkable season of his career in some respects. His 40th homer came on September 16 off of Padres right-hander Scott Sanders. His 40th steal came more than a week later in a game at Coors Field. Though he ended up winning seven MVP awards, he finished fifth in MVP voting during the '96 slate in spite of his league-leading 129 RBIs and lofty .461 on-base percentage. That same season, he became the fourth member of baseball's 300-300 club, joining his father (Bobby) along with Willie Mays and Andre Dawson. 

A-Rod's big moment came on September 19, 1998, when he blasted a solo homer (his 40th of the season) off of aging Angels right-hander Jack McDowell. His 40th stolen base had come two weeks earlier in a game against the Orioles. An indication that the feat was little more than a bucket list item for A-Rod, he never stole more than 28 bases in a season during his remaining seventeen years in the majors. In fact, his 46 steals in '98 represented fourteen percent of his lifetime totals. On the other hand, the homers kept piling up for A-Rod over the years. He reached the 50 homer plateau three times and retired with 696 long balls--currently fourth on the all time list behind Aaron, Ruth and fellow steroid user Barry Bonds. 

Perhaps the most unlikely member of the 40/40 club, Soriano had narrowly missed in 2002 with the Yankees, gathering 41 steals and 39 homers. He eventually broke through in 2006 while playing for the Washington Nationals. When he clubbed his 40th homer that year, he was 10 stolen bases short of inclusion. After swiping his 40th bag on September 17, he was somewhat surprised himself, commenting: "That's very amazing for me because there's a lot of players that can play this game. That's an amazing number." Over the next eight seasons, Soriano reached the 30 homer threshold twice, peaking at 34. His highest stolen base total in that same span was 19. An enduring claim to fame, he is currently the only steroid-free 40-40 man.