In a stunning turn of events, the best pitcher in baseball imploded during the seventh inning of last night’s NLDS opener against the Cardinals. Staked to a 6-1 lead entering the sixth and a 6-2 lead entering the seventh, Kershaw suddenly became about as effective as the Tigers’ bullpen; losing the lead in grand fashion as the Cardinals rallied for the Game One victory.
We can second-guess Don Mattingly leaving him in so long all we want, but the point of this article is not to debate the effectiveness of a tired Clayton Kershaw against a not-tired Pedro Baez, J.P. Howell or Brandon League. Instead, it is to take a moment to reflect on this outing’s place in history among awful postseason outings. Kershaw’s outing certainly wasn’t the worst – he could have won if Mattingly would have pulled him after the sixth (although this was probably not the best idea) – but it was the first time in the history of the postseason that a pitcher threw at least six innings and surrendered at least eight earned runs.
With this in mind, here are the top five worst postseason pitching performances in the history of Major League Baseball, based on my arbitrary ranking system featuring a variety of factors including game score, importance of the game, win probability lost (shown as WPA), hilarity of the stat line, variety in type of futility, and entertainment value to the present author and his prospective audience.
5. Jack Morris, 1987 ALCS Game Two (Tigers trailed 1-0)
Pitching Line: 8 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 1 HR
Game Score: 50
Final Score: 6-3
This isn't an awful game statistically and actually features an average game score of 50, but Morris’ outing makes the list because it was one of only two complete games in which a pitcher surrendered at least six earned runs (Bill Donovan threw the other in the 1908 World Series). This is purely an entertainment value selection, as it is quite amusing that the Tigers would elect to leave their starter who was experiencing such little success in the game so long. The final blow typically would have been Kent Hrbek’s one-out home run in the fifth inning that put the Twins ahead 6-2, but the Tigers let him ride.
Morris responded by striking out Gary Gaetti and Randy Bush to end the frame, and left in presumably to eat innings, Morris responded again by being PERFECT (!) for the rest of the game. This proved to be a wise decision by the Tigers, as he saved the bullpen by retiring the final 11 Twins in order with five strikeouts. However, the damage had already been done and the Tiger hitters could only scrape together three runs against Bert Blyleven and closer Juan Berenguer. If a pitcher is definitely going to lose a playoff game, this is the way to do it, but this loss put the Tigers in a 2-0 hole that they could not overcome, as they dropped the series in five games.
4. Clayton Kershaw, Multiple Entries
Entry One: 2013 NLCS Game Six (Dodgers trailed 3-2)
Pitching Line: 4 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 5 K, 0 HR
Game Score: 17
Final Score: 9-0
Matched up against Cardinals’ rookie phenom and postseason hero Michael Wacha with a chance to send the 2013 NLCS to a Game Seven, Clayton Kershaw fell victim to a pair of hit parades that turned a potential pitchers' duel into a laugher. The Cy Young Award winner and ERA leader that season, Kershaw had only surrendered more than eight hits in an outing once during the season (and that was at Coors Field), but surrendered ten during the final postseason game of the Dodgers’ 2013 campaign.
Entry Two: 2014 NLDS Game One
Pitching Line: 6.2 IP, 8 H, 8 ER, 0 BB, 10 K, 2 HR
Game Score: 36
Final Score: 10-9
The fun part about Kershaw’s outing from last night is that in most cases, a pitcher going 6.2 innings with 10 Ks and no walks will have a very good outing. This was clearly not the case, as a pair of solo home runs and a nightmarish hit parade in the seventh led to the likely Cy Young Award winner’s demise. It is quite interesting, however, that the best pitcher in baseball has had one of the worst outings in postseason history against the same opponent in back to back postseasons.
I should note that by including Kershaw on this list, I am by no means suggesting that Kershaw is "not suited for the postseason" or "chokes in October." He is still the best pitcher in baseball and though these outings are ugly, he is still the guy that I would want starting an important game for my team. There are plenty of other very good pitchers, such as Andy Pettitte (four times) and Tom Glavine (five times), who had multiple postseason outings with at least six earned runs.
3. Franklin Morales, 2007 World Series Game One
Pitching Line: 0.2 IP, 6 H, 7 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 0 HR
Game Score: N/A (Game Score is only for starting pitchers)
Final Score: 13-1
After a poor start by Jeff Francis to open the 2007 Fall Classic, the Rockies handed Morales the ball to open the fifth inning, facing a 6-1 deficit. The Rockies had just a 4% win expectancy at that point, so the task of Morales was mostly of the inning-eating variety, but he was unable to do even that. After a Julio Lugo single, a bunt forceout from Jacoby Ellsbury and a Dustin Pedroia popout, the floodgates opened. It began with a balk, sending Ellsbury to second, and after three doubles, two singles, and an unintentional walk, Morales was finally removed. Save the pen he did not, as the Rockies used an additional four relievers during the Game One loss on their way to a four game sweep.
Honorable Mention from this game: Ryan Speier, who replaced Morales, walked the first three batters he faced, and was promptly removed. It was the only World Series appearance of his career. However, after cashing in three of Morales’ runs, Speier was not charged with any of his own as Matt Herges came in and retired Kevin Youkilis to end the frame. Speier’s career World Series line is 1 App, 0 IP, 3 BB, 0.00 ERA.
2. Donovan Osborne, 1996 NLCS Game Seven
Pitching Line: 0.2 IP, 5 H, 6 ER, 1 BB, 0 K, 0 HR
Game Score: 17
Final Score: 15-0
After seeing Osborne beat Tom Glavine 3-2 in Game Three, the Cardinals hoped he could do it again in a winner-take-all matchup with a trip to the World Series on the line. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, this game was over almost as soon as it began. Glavine began the game with a clean frame, but instead of matching him, Osborne failed to make it out of the first inning. The frame could have been better for the Cardinals, but with the bases loaded and two outs, Glavine, the opposing pitcher, lined a three-run triple to left field. This doubled the deficit to six runs, lowered the Cardinals’ win expectancy to 7%, and sent Osborne to the showers.
Osborne wasn’t the only Cardinal pitcher to get hit around that day, as Mark Petkovsek surrendered five hits and three runs in just two-thirds of an inning. Tony Fossas, who worked the eighth, was the only one of the five Cardinal pitchers with a respectable pitching line. This was anything but an exciting Game Seven, as the Braves' win expectancy was already at 100% during the fourth inning.
1. Jay Witasick, 2001 World Series Game Six (Yankees led 3-2)
Pitching Line: 1.1 IP, 10 H, 9 R, 8 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 0 HR
Game Score: N/A
Final Score: 15-2
With Pettitte pitted against Randy Johnson, Game Six of the 2001 World Series figured to be a pitchers' duel between two elite hurlers. A poor start by Pettitte, who lasted just two -plus innings and surrendered six runs, foiled that storyline, as the Yankees turned to Witasick to keep the game close. Witasick promptly cashed in both of Pettitte's inherited runners, making it 6-0 and then began surrendering plenty of his own. His appearance began with four straight singles, including one to Randy Johnson, before recording his first out via strikeout. Four more hits, two doubles and two singles, followed before Witasick finally recorded another strikeout to end the frame. (Tony Womack was thrown out at home for the other out.).
Yankee Manager Joe Torre must have conceded Game Six by this point because he sent Witasick out for another inning, where he proceeded to surrender another three runs (two earned), before finally being lifted in favor of Randy Choate. Witasick isn’t the reason the Yankees lost, Pettitte’s poor outing and Johnson’s good outing were the reasons for that, but I enjoy this performance because Witasick became a sacrificial lamb (see link for explanation if you are unfamiliar with the concept) during Game Six of the World Series. Sacrificial lambs are rare enough as they are, but during Game Six of the World Series? That’s crazy.
Finally, it’s fun that in a four-out appearance, Witasick recorded four strikeouts, no walks, no home runs, and allowed ten balls in play, but suffered a 1.000 BABIP and surrendered nine runs. Choate cashed in both of Witasick’s inherited runners, the final Diamondbacks runs of the game, so from the time Witasick entered the ballgame to the time the book was finally closed on his outing, the score went from 4-0 to 15-0. Yikes.
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All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.
Dan Weigel is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and an Author of Minor League Ball. If you like tweets, you can find his at @DanWiggles38.