With legends like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander in the World Series this year, I thought it would be fun to look back on some of the best single-game pitching performances in World Series history, given that at any time during this series we could see a historic performance from one of these starters.
I ranked the games based on the data and where I would rank them in terms of performance as well as the significance and context of that particular game. For the sake of fairness and comparability, I eliminated games before 1969 since that is the year the mound was lowered, which completely changed the game. Many of these games may rank in a different order or some may not make the cut in your eyes, that’s okay, the best part about ranking these performances is that they’re complete subjective as we all interpret the different aspects of a pitching performance in our own way. I encourage you to comment below which World Series pitching performances you think are the best. Without further ado, the five best pitching performances in the World Series since 1969.
5. Scott McGregor, 10/16/1983 Game 5 — Orioles at Phillies (3-1)
9IP, 5H, 0R, 2BB, 6K, 113 pitches - 83 strikes, Game Score: 81
Although the lowest Game Score of the five top performances, Scott McGregor’s Game Five performance lead the Baltimore Orioles to a World Series title. By pitching a complete game shutout, he joined the ranks of 15 other pitchers to throw a complete game shutout in the World Series since 1969. He’s also only one of four pitchers to throw that complete game shutout in a World Series clinching game. Just that alone should earn him a spot in the top five, however in addition to that, he also only threw 113 pitches through nine innings of which 83 were strikes, which comes out to an incredible 73.5 percent strike rate. In addition to the gaudy strike rate, despite giving up two walks and five hits — two of which were extra-base hits — McGregor only allowed runners to reach scoring position three times and he only faced five batters above the minimum. That is why McGregor’s 1983 Game Five performance landed in my top five.
4. Madison Bumgarner, 10/26/2014 Game 5 — Giants vs Royals (2-2)
9IP, 4H, 0R, 0BB, 8K, 117 pitches - 84 strikes, Game Score: 87
If you watched the postseason in 2014, you likely recall the unbelievable performance Madison Bumgarner displayed, especially in the World Series in which he lead his team to their third Series in five seasons and captured the World Series MVP, the first pitcher to do so since Cole Hamels did it with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008.
The rest of his postseason aside, this is likely the best game Madison Bumgarner has ever thrown. Only four baserunners the entire game, one of which was a double and three singles. He also didn’t walk any batters and had thrown 84 strikeouts out of 117 pitches which is a 71.8 percent strike rate. Bumgarner also had a staggering 17 swings and misses and another 22 called strikes, which is over 46 percent of his total strikes. With this performance the Giants captured Game Five putting them up three to two in the series, forcing a must win for Kansas City. As I said this is likely the very best game Bumgarner has ever thrown but it’s also one of the best in World Series history.
3. Josh Beckett, 10/25/2003 Game 6 — Marlins at Yankees (3-2)
9IP, 5H, 0R, 2BB, 9K, 107 pitches - 71 strikes, Game Score: 84
Josh Beckett single-handedly pitched his team to a victory in Game Six of the 2003 World Series with a complete game shutout. By winning Game Six, the Marlins also won the World Series beating the Yankees four games to two. Not only was this the deciding game for the Series, it was also played at Yankee Stadium which was a notoriously difficult place to pitch especially for the opposition.
Although only ranking eighth in terms of Game Score, to say Beckett’s performance in Game Six was dominant would be an understatement. He allowed seven total base runners over nine innings, only two of which were doubles, the only extra base hits of the game. Beckett also put up a complete game shutout with an average leverage index of 1.373 which ranks in the top 30 in World Series history, the second highest average leverage during a complete game shutout behind only Jack Morris’ performance in Game Seven of the 1991 World Series. Additionally, Beckett threw 107 pitches of which 71 were strikes which comes out to a 66.4 percent strike rate. Beckett’s performance in Game Six will not only go down in Marlins history as one of the best performances, it will also compare favorably to any other World Series performance for many years to come.
2. Jack Morris, 10/27/1991 Game 7 — Twins vs Braves (3-3)
10IP, 7H, 0R, 2BB, 9K, 126 pitches - 76 strikes, Game Score: 84
Although only ranking 9th on the list in terms of game score, Jack Morris’ Game Seven clutch performance is a no-doubter as the second best game in World Series history.
First and foremost, it was Game Seven, so there’s an enormous pressure given the context of the game. Then to throw 10 innings of shutout baseball is incredible, even during the regular season let alone the postseason. As a matter of fact it’s the only time since 1969 that someone has thrown a 10 inning shutout in the World Series and only the third time in the entire history of the World Series that someone threw at least 10 innings of shutout baseball in a single game, Clem Labine in 1956 and Christy Mathewson in 1913 were the other two. The Game Score is really the only knock against Morris’ performance and it only stems from the number of hits and walks allowed versus the limited number of strikeouts. However, when you’re facing the same batters four and even five times it’s not only going to be really difficult to strike them out — even on your best day — but is also difficult to keep the batter from reaching base in some manner. Furthermore Morris’s average leverage index from that game was 1.558 which ranks 9th highest in a single game of the World Series since 1969 and the highest for a complete game shutout. So not only did Morris put on a show, he did so during one of the highest pressure games for a pitcher in World Series history.
1. Randy Johnson, 10/28/2001 Game 2 — Diamondbacks vs Yankees (1-0)
9IP, 3H, 0R, 1BB, 11K, 110 pitches - 76 strikes, Game Score: 91
The only 90 Game Score in World Series history, after the mound was lowered, Randy Johnson joined five other pitchers since 1913 to throw a 90 Game Score in the World Series. Only Babe Ruth in 1916, Don Larson in 1956, and Bob Gibson in 1968 had a higher Game Score than Johnson in the entire history of the World Series.
Johnson faced the fabled Yankees in the World Series, starting Game 2 backing up Curt Schilling — Johnson threw a gem — allowing only four base runners in nine innings. Johnson was perfect through the first three innings with seven strikeouts. He then allowed his only walk to Randy Velarde the second batter in the fourth inning with one batter already retired. Johnson went on to retire the side then gave up his first hit in the fifth inning to Jorge Posada the first batter of the inning, but again retired the side without issue. The only time a runner reached scoring position was in the eighth inning when Shane Spencer and Alfonso Soriano reached on back to back singles to start the inning. Johnson kept his confidence and struck out the next batter before receiving some backup from his defense in the form of a groundball double play to escape the jam. Johnson retired the side in the ninth 1,2,3 grabbing the second game of the series and putting the Diamondbacks up two games to none. Johnson’s game was incredible for several reasons, first is obviously the Game Score, but that stems from allowing only three singles and a walk, the only four baserunners all game. The 11 strikeouts also add to that game score, but something that isn’t calculated is the strike percentage, Johnson threw 110 pitches, 76 of which were strikes, which is 69 percent. It’s also only one of three complete game shutouts thrown in the World Series since 2000, which speaks to the difficulty in the modern era. Between the 11 strikeouts, only a total of 110 pitches over nine innings facing three over the minimum makes this an easy no doubter for the best World Series performance since 1969.
While these are only a few of the best performances in World Series history, there are several starts that could have made the cut. I prioritized deciding games of the Series over non-deciding games, such as Game six while up three to two versus Game 5 while tied two to two. It’s hard not to include a few other performances that just missed the cut, so here are a few honorable mentions:
HM: Brett Saberhagen, 10/27/1985 Game 7 — Royals vs Cardinals (3-3)
9IP, 5H, 0R, 0BB, 2K, 92 pitches - 64 strikes, Game Score: 79
HM: Nelson Briles, 10/14/1971 Game 5 — Pirates vs Orioles (2-2)
9IP, 2H, 0R, 2BB, 2K, Game Score: 83
HM: John Tudor, 10/23/1985 Game 4 — Royals at Cardinals (1-2)
9IP, 5H, 0R, 1BB, 8K, 108 pitches - 80 strikes, Game Score: 84
HM: Orel Hershiser, 10/16/1988 Game 2 — Dodgers vs Athletics (1-0)
9IP, 3H, 0R, 2BB, 8K, Game Score: 87
Stay tuned next week for the best pitching performances through an entire World Series series.
Ron Wolschleger is a pitchaholic and a Contributing Writer for Beyond the Box Score as well as Bless You Boys. You can follow him on Twitter at @FIPmyWHIP.