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.             

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