It’s October and that means only one thing for baseball fans: the World Series is almost here.
As competitors battle for playoff positions and wild-card spots, fans of teams like the Cubs can rest easy knowing they’ve already clinched their spot. The Cubbies are looking to break the Curse of the Billy Goat and bring home the World Series trophy for the first time since 1908.
Chicago’s hope for a championship stirs up the painful memories of the 2003 Steve Bartman game. What is often lost in memories of the 2003 season were the stellar performances of young flamethrowers Mark Prior and Kerry Wood. In fact, Prior was pitching a gem until he ran into trouble that eventually resulted in the Bartman incident.
That got us thinking about some of the greatest playoff performances of all time, so we searched through the record books to come up with our top four.
#4 Jake Arrieta, Chicago Cubs, 2015: 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K
Arrieta was a dominant pitcher in 2015, so much so that he won his first National League Cy Young award. The young gun’s immense talent had Cubs fans thinking 2015 was the year their team would break the curse; it wasn’t.
However, Arrieta did his best to make sure the Cubs advanced to the National League Divisional Series when he mowed down 11 Pittsburgh Pirates on his way to a 4-hit, complete game shutout.
The fact that Arrieta gave up four hits puts him a notch below the pitchers on this list. However, those hits don’t take away from the fact that the Chicago right-hander was the first pitcher in the history of the game to walk zero, strike out at least 10 batters and give up zero runs in a postseason performance.
#3 Dave McNally, Baltimore Orioles, 1969: 11 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 11K
Who’s Dave McNally? That’s probably the first thing that crossed your mind when you read this line. Don’t worry, we wondered the same thing. But after reading about his Herculean effort against the Twins in the ‘69 ALCS, we thought he deserved a spot on this list.
McNally pitched an 11-inning complete game – 11 innings! And, he didn’t give up a single run.
What makes this game even more interesting is that the Orioles didn’t score until the bottom of the 11th inning, which means McNally was under the gun for 33 outs before finally breathing a sigh of relief.
Nevermind the physical prowess needed to finish out an 11-inning complete-game shutout; the mental energy it took to stay focused was incredible.
The Orioles went on to sweep the Twins but lose to the Amazin’ Mets in the World Series. Despite the disappointing end to the season, 1969 was the best regular season in the history of the franchise. The O’s tallied 109 wins and McNally led the team with 20 of them.
#2 Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies, 2010: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 9 K
This epic performance during the Phillies’ National League Divisional Series game against the Cincinnati Reds in 2010. This game was amazing on several levels.
First, it was Halladay’s first postseason appearance ever. “Doc” already had a Cy Young on his shelf from his days with the Toronto Blue Jays, but all those years with the Canadian team never garnered him a postseason appearance. When he finally got the chance to take the hill in October, he made it count.
Speedy shortstop Jimmy Rollins summed up Halladay’s stuff that night: “He was filthy. Filthy, like just completely filthy.”
Second, the no-hitter was only Halladay’s second-best performance of the season. Earlier in the year, he threw a perfect game. Not bad, Doc.
Here’s a video of the final out of Halladay’s postseason masterpiece:
#1 Don Larsen, New York Yankees, 1956: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K
For us, Larsen’s effort in 1965 was the ultimate performance because of he did what no other pitcher has ever achieved in the storied history of the game: a perfect game in a World Series.
That’s right; Larsen struck out seven Brooklyn Dodgers on the way to recording the first postseason perfect game. Larsen’s thrilling win put the Yanks ahead 3-2, and even though the Dodgers tied the series in Game 6, the Yankees took the trophy in the seventh game.
Larsen was named the World Series MVP, and was the only pitcher with a postseason no-hitter or perfect game until Halladay’s gem in 2010.
Here’s the official video of the final strike in Larsen’s World Series perfect game:
About the Author: J.R. Duren is a regular contributor to the iM Sports Blog. His work has been featured in numerous online publications.