Last week I ranked the top 5 single game performances in World Series history and I promised this week we would cover total performances throughout an entire series during the World Series. Yes, single game performances are important, especially in the World Series, however at the same time it is within the realm of possibility of not just having one good game during the World Series but rather a set of good games throughout the series. Normally this proves difficult for starting pitchers given the time of rest needed between starts, however it is possible to make at least two starts and sometimes three, or at least two starts and a bullpen appearance. From this a single starting pitcher can not only have the most impact but also be the deciding factor in whether their team wins the World Series. So without further ado the top five series performances during the World Series since 1969.
5. Bret Saberhagen, 1985 World Series, Kansas City Royals vs St. Louis Cardinals (4-3)
2GS, 18IP, 11H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB, 10K
Bret Saberhagen also made my list last week as an honorable mention with his complete game shutout in Game Seven of the 1985 World Series. Saberhagen preempted that performance with another complete game in Game Three but allowed one run on six hits and a walk. So although it wasn’t a perfect World Series, it was just about as close to perfect as anyone has gotten and the only reason his performance in 1985 wasn’t ranked higher is he only made two appearances during the World Series whereas all the others had three.
4. Jack Morris, 1991 World Series, Minnesota Twins vs Atlanta Braves (4-3)
3GS, 23IP, 18H, 3R, 3ER, 9BB, 15K, 1HR
One of Jack Morris’ performances from the 1991 World Series also made my list of top single game performances last week. His 10 inning complete game shutout in Game Seven which helped the Twins capture the World Series will be forever etched in history. However, prior to Game Seven, in Games One and Four, Morris had two quality starts giving up three runs off of 11 hits and seven walks over a total of 13 innings. Although his peripherals weren’t great, he got the job done and didn’t allow many runs and then pitched one of the single best games in World Series history in Game Seven in 1991.
3. Randy Johnson, 2001 World Series, Arizona Diamondbacks vs New York Yankees (4-3)
2GS, 17.1IP, 9H, 2R, 2ER, 2BB, 19K
Randy Johnson topped my list last week with his complete game shutout in Game Two in which he struck out 11 batters, the highest game score in a World Series game since the mound was lowered in 1969 and one of the best dating all the way back to 1913.
Johnson didn’t stop there, he went on to put up a solid, seven inning start in Game Six where he allowed the only two runs he allowed all series, and then followed it up with a 1 and 1⁄3 inning performance in Game Seven on no rest to closeout the game, earn a win, and help lead the Diamondbacks to the World Series. Johnson went on to win co-MVP for the 2001 World Series with another guy on this list.
2. Curt Schilling, 2001 World Series, Arizona Diamondbacks vs New York Yankees (4-3)
3GS, 21.1IP, 12H, 4R, 4ER, 2BB, 26K, 2HR
Curt Schilling had about as dominant a performance as you can expect from a starting pitcher who made three starts out of a possible seven during the World Series. He put up three starts of at least seven innings pitched, the last two of which were both on three days of rest. He allowed four runs in those three starts, which included two home runs. He also only had two walks versus 26 strikeouts which is incredible. Even more impressive was he threw 103 pitches or less in all three starts, which speaks to the efficiency and dominance he displayed with the Diamondbacks. His performance earned him Co-MVP with Randy Johnson who was also dominant in his own right as previously mentioned.
1. Madison Bumgarner, 2014 World Series, San Francisco Giants vs Kansas City Royals (4-3)
2GS, 21IP, 9H, 1R, 1ER, 1BB, 17K, 1HR
Although he didn’t start three games during the World Series in 2014, Madison Bumgarner still did more than anyone had in a prior World Series. With a 1.3-win percentage added which is tied for second highest all time, even before the mound was lowered in 1969. Only Waite Hoyt in 1921 who started three games and pitched three complete nine inning games had a higher win percentage added in World Series history with three complete games to his name.
Bumgarner started out with a seven inning three-hitter in which he allowed the only run he gave up the entire series, a home run by Salvador Perez in the seventh inning. He also surrendered his only walk of the series during the first game.
In his second start in Game Five, Bumgarner threw a complete game shutout allowing only four baserunners which ended up ranking fourth on my list of top five single game performances in the World Series. With the series tied in Game Seven and the Giants squeaking a run by the Royals in the fifth inning — which put the Giants up by one run — manager Bruce Bochy turned to the one man he knew he could trust. Bumgarner. And MadBum didn’t disappoint, throwing a five inning save, giving up two hits while striking out four on only three days of rest. He finished the World Series with 21 innings while allowing only that one run, which easily made him the MVP of the World Series that year and will go down as one of best performances in World Series history if not the single best performance by a pitcher throughout a World Series.
It wouldn’t be fair to others who had legendary performances during the World Series if I didn’t give a few Honorable Mentions:
H.M.: Bruce Hurst, 1986 World Series, Boston Red Sox vs New York Mets (3-4)
3GS, 23IP, 18H, 5R, 5ER, 6BB, 17K, 1HR
H.M.: Steve Blass, 1971 World Series, Pittsburgh Pirates vs Baltimore Orioles (4-3)
2GS, 18IP, 7H, 2R, 2ER, 4BB, 13K, 1HR
H.M.: Josh Beckett, 2003 World Series, Florida Marlins vs New York Yankees (4-2)
2GS, 16.1IP, 8H, 2R, 2ER, 5BB, 19K
H.M.: Jose Rijo, 1990 World Series, Cincinnati Reds vs Oakland Athletics (4-0)
2GS, 15.1IP, 9H, 1R, 1ER, 5BB, 14K
H.M.: Orel Hershiser, 1988 World Series, Los Angeles Dodgers vs Oakland Athletics (4-1)
2GS, 18IP, 7H, 2R, 2ER, 6BB, 17K
Specials thanks to Baseball Reference and their Play Index for allowing me to be able to create this list based upon data and searches available in the Play Index. If you love data diving and researching previous occurrences in the MLB, I highly recommend you subscribe.