The Greatest Pitching Duels In Division Series History

Thursday, October 07 2004 @ 01:39 AM EDT

Contributed by: Mike D

First in a three-part series.

Although my magnum opus -- okay, mildly interesting account -- of the greatest postseason games in baseball history remains a work in progress, I've decided to pen some shorter, more concise articles in the meantime.

After the Santana-Mussina matchup last night, I thought I'd snap up a list of the top ten pitching duels in Division Series history.

There are only three criteria:

1) They would be ranked objectively, not subjectively. Specifically, I would simply add the Game Scores of the two starting pitchers, and rank the games accordingly.

2) The final score had to be 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1. If the starters were stellar but the bullpen blase, no dice.

3) Both starters must go at least seven innings.

Without further ado, let's begin. Thanks, as always, to Retrosheet.

Honourable Mentions
1997, Game 1 -- Atlanta 2 at Houston 1 (Combined Game Score ("CGS"): 141)
Greg Maddux (Braves) 9 7 1 1 1 6
Darryl Kile (Astros) 7 2 2 2 2 4

1997, Game 1 -- San Francisco 1 at Florida 2 (CGS: 137)
Kevin Brown (Marlins) 7 4 1 1 0 5
Kirk Rueter (Giants) 7 4 1 1 3 5

10. 1981, Game 4 -- Houston 1 at Los Angeles 2 (CGS: 143)
Fernando Valenzuela (Dodgers) 9 4 1 1 1 4
Vern Ruhle (Astros) 8 4 2 2 2 1

In this pitching-rich series, the wildly popular Valenzuela's dream season continued, as he stymied Houston for eight innings with his team facing elimination. In the ninth, with the Astros trailing 2-0, Saskatchewan's own Terry Puhl doubled and was driven in by a Tony Scott single. Fernando stranded Scott at first, though, after coaxing a popup from Jose Cruz (Sr., that is).

For their part, Los Angeles only got to Ruhle for a Pedro Guerrero solo homer and a Bill Russell RBI single, but it was enough to tie the series and force a deciding fifth game. In Game 5, Jerry Reuss outdueled Nolan Ryan, 4-0, and the Dodgers went on to win the Series.

9. 1998, Game 1 -- Texas 0 at New York 2 (CGS: 146)
David Wells (Yankees) 8 5 0 0 1 9
Todd Stottlemyre (Rangers) 8 6 2 2 4 8

Teammates on the championship '92 Jays, Wells and Stottlemyre were rivals on this night as the Yankees began their postseason run. Boomer was absolutely cruising through eight, but with Juan Gone, Will Clark and Pudge due up in the ninth, Torre went to Mariano Rivera, who set down Texas in order.

Stottlemyre was gutsy, but his teammates couldn't pick him up after his one blemished inning. In the second, Todd gave up a one-out walk to Jorge Posada and a Chad Curtis double, putting runners on second and third. Scott Brosius drove in one with a single, and when Texas appeared to be on the verge of a strike-him-out-throw-him-out double play, Brosius alertly caused a rundown which allowed Curtis to scamper home with an insurance run. The Yankees didn't need it, though, as Wells set the tone for a dominant postseason for one of the greatest clubs of all time.

8. 2001, Game 5 -- St. Louis 1 at Arizona 2 (CGS: 146)
Curt Schilling (Diamondbacks) 9 6 1 1 1 9
Matt Morris (Cardinals) 8 7 1 1 3 6

After a brilliant Game 1 (see below), pundits wondered whether the Cards ace and the Snakes' co-ace would reprise their duel in Game 5. They didn't disappoint.

Heading into the eighth inning of this deciding game, it seemed like a Reggie Sanders home run would be all the run support the great Schilling would need. But with two out, J.D. Drew silenced the BOB with a solo blast. Morris retired the D-backs in the bottom of the eighth, and Schilling escaped the ninth without further damage, striking out Edgar Renteria and Mike Matheny with Jim Edmonds on second.

In the ninth, Tony La Russa went to his 'pen, and even though Tony Womack failed miserably on a suicide squeeze attempt -- leaving Midre Cummings dead to rights at the plate -- he redeemed himself immediately, by slapping an RBI single to left and scoring Danny Bautista with the series-winning run. Arizona, of course, would win an outstanding World Series in seven.

7. 1981, Game 2 -- Los Angeles 0 at Houston 1 (11 inn.) (CGS: 147)
Jerry Reuss (Dodgers) 9 5 0 0 2 3
Joe Niekro (Astros) 8 7 0 0 3 4

Never a hitter's park, the Astrodome played host to this dead-ball affair. The Dodgers desperately wanted to avoid an 0-2 hole after dropping Game 1, and Reuss did all he could, coaxing popups with two men on from both Cesar Cedeno and Art Howe in the ninth. But he got squat in support, with Joe Niekro striking out Reuss himself with the bases loaded in the sixth en route to eight shutout innings.

Finally in the eleventh, with two outs and the bases loaded, Denny Walling punched a game-winning single into right off Tom Niedenfuer to break the deadlock. Houston would drop three in SoCal, though, and foreshadow decades of playoff futility.

6. 1998, Game 2 -- Chicago 1 at Atlanta 2 (10 inn.) (CGS: 150)
Kevin Tapani (Cubs) 9 5 1 1 3 6
Tom Glavine (Braves) 7 3 1 1 1 8

Nursing a one-run lead and under the pressure of a one-game deficit, Jim Riggleman sent the veteran Tapani out to finish what he started in the ninth. But with one out, Javy Lopez tied the game with a solo blast, sending matters into extra innings.

In the bottom of the tenth, reliever Terry Mulholland bungled a one-on, one-out Walt Weiss bunt, and Chipper Jones came through with an RBI single to win the game for Los Bravos. Atlanta completed the three-game sweep at Wrigley Field, but would be eliminated by the surprising Padres in the NLCS.

5. 2001, Game 3 -- New York 1 at Oakland 0 (CGS: 151)
Barry Zito (Athletics) 8 2 1 1 1 6
Mike Mussina (Yankees) 7 4 0 0 1 4

This game will always be remembered for the Derek Jeter flip/Jeremy Giambi no-slide play, but that shouldn't obscure the memory of a brilliant pitching duel. With the A's having stunned the Yanks in Games 1 and 2 in the Bronx, Zito pitched well enough to earn the sweep, with a Jorge Posada homer among the mere two hits he allowed.

Mussina was obviously bailed out by the unholy alliance of DJ and Little G, but he was razor-sharp all night. Other than The Play, Mussina was only threatened in the fourth, when he got out of a jam by guessed it, Jeremy Giambi. The Yankees would break the Beaneiacs' hearts in five, en route to the '01 Classic.

4. 2001, Game 1 -- St. Louis 0 at Arizona 1 (CGS: 154)
Curt Schilling (Diamondbacks) 9 3 0 0 1 9
Matt Morris (Cardinals) 7 6 1 1 2 6

Setting the tone for a great series, Schilling and Morris were both brilliant in a tense opening match. The heavy-hitting Cards were really no match for Schill on this night, as the three-up, three-down ninth -- against Drew, Pujols and Edmonds, no less -- was a microcosm of Schilling's great performance.

Schilling even pitched in offensively, bunting Damian Miller over to second in the fifth. Steve Finley drove the catcher in with a base knock, and that's all the eventual World Series Co-MVP would need.

3. 1996, Game 1 -- Atlanta 2 at Los Angeles 1 (10 inn.) (CGS: 155)
John Smoltz (Braves) 9 4 1 1 2 7
Ramon Martinez (Dodgers) 8 3 1 1 3 6

The defending champs had all they could handle from Ramon Martinez and his funky delivery in Game 1. It was all Atlanta could do to manufacture a run (single, steal, groundout, sac fly) in the fourth, while the Dodgers cashed in a run with a pair of doubles from Greg Gagne and Todd Hollandsworth in the fifth. After L.A. tied the score, baserunners were scarce, and Smoltz cruised through the ninth.

Javy Lopez led off the tenth with a go-ahead homer off Antonio Osuna, so Bobby Cox didn't need to be tempted by throwing Smoltz out for the tenth. Mark Wohlers allowed a lone single in earning the save, and the Braves would make the World Series for the second straight year -- this time, succumbing to the Yanks in six.

2. 1998, Game 1 -- San Diego 2 at Houston 1 (CGS: 156)
Kevin Brown (Padres) 8 2 0 0 2 16
Randy Johnson (Astros) 8 9 2 2 1 9

One of the true mercenaries of the '90s, Kevin Brown managed to do the unthinkable in the Astrodome: out-power-pitch the Big Unit, himself a midseason acquisition. Brown's pitches were moving something awful in this matinee, as he struck out Derek Bell and Ricky Gutierrez all three times they each strode to the plate.

The Padres managed to scratch out a run off the Unit in the sixth, and Greg Vaughn added a solo blast in the eighth. The insurance run came in handy, as the Astros struck for a run in the bottom of the ninth off Trevor Hoffman, but Carl Everett flied out to strand the tying run at first. The Padres took the series in four as they made their improbable run to the 1998 NL pennant.

1. 2003, Game 1 -- Florida 0 at San Francisco 2 (CGS: 159)
Jason Schmidt (Giants) 9 3 0 0 0 5
Josh Beckett (Marlins) 7 2 1 1 5 9

Surprised at which game claims the top spot? I was, too. Last season's playoffs had it all -- including, apparently, the highest combined Game Score in Division Series history. Jason Schmidt was ruthless in the San Francisco sun, coaxing Juan Pierre to fly out with men on second and third in the fifth before tossing four perfect innings to complete the shutout.

Although he was a tad wild, Josh Beckett was awfully tough in his own right, holding Barry Bonds to an 0-for-1 with an intentional walk and an "unintentional" free pass, and departing with only an Edgardo Alfonzo RBI single held against him on the scoreboard. The Giants inflicted some instant karma on the Fish in the eighth, though, when Jack McKeon had Chad Fox intentionally walk Barry with two out and nobody on. Alfonzo promptly doubled home Bonds for the game's second, and final, run.

That may have been the last managerial mistake McKeon made in the postseason, though, as the Marlins broke hearts from coast to coast -- and Chicago in between -- as they nabbed the franchise's second title.