In the excitement of the moment it is tempting to believe that Gerrit Cole’s performance in Game 2 of the ALDS Saturday night was the greatest game pitched in the history of Houston Astros playoff games. Maybe it’s true.
Consider these facts. His fifteen strikeouts were the most by an Astros pitcher in the playoffs, and third all-time, behind the great Bob Gibson. He walked only one in 7.2 scoreless innings. He induced 33 swings and misses, the most on record in the playoffs since the pitch-tracking era. Fourteen of his fifteen strikeouts came on swinging strikes, including his seventh inning K of Ji-man Choi clocked at 100 MPH.
Here are the highlights of this magnificent pitching achievement.
But let us not be deceived by recency bias. There are other great contenders for the title of Most Dominant Playoff Game Pitched by an Astro. I want to highlight my two favorites.
Mike Scott, 1986 NLCS, Game 1
Scott only got 14 strikeouts in his 1-0 victory over Dwight Gooden and the Mets, and his five hits were one more than Cole allowed, but a complete game shutout has to be worth some extra points. Cole left it up to someone else to get the last four outs in his game, and you saw how that almost turned out.
Justin Verlander, 2017 ALCS Game 2
Justin was a laggard in the strikeout category in this one, getting only 13. But like Scott, he had a complete game victory over New York’s other team, the Evil Empire, allowing five hits and one walk. It was not a shutout, but nonetheless resulted in a dramatic walk-off 2-1 victory.
Verlander had a remarkable 94 strikes out of 124 total pitches. He “only” had 25 swings and misses. But his Game Score was 85, identical to that of Cole Saturday night.
Both Cole and Verlander have achieved the rare Game Scores of 100; Verlander on the night of his no-hitter this year, and Cole in his game against Arizona last year.
Here’s Verlander’s gem:
Joe Niekro actually threw 10 scoreless innings against the Phillies in the 1980 NLCS, a game the Astros won 1-0 in 11 innings. He gave up six hits, 1 walk but only 2 strikeouts. However, I suspect that with his knuckleball the batter stupidity quotient was still pretty high.
The next year Niekro threw an 8 inning shutout in the NWDIV against the Dodgers, a game the Astros won 1-0 in 11 innings. He surrendered 7 hits, 3 walks and had 4 strikeouts. In the previous game Nolan Ryan had a complete game victory, allowing 1 run, 2 hits, and 1 walk with 7 strikeouts.
Imagine as a hitter seeing Niekro on Day 1 with his butterfly pitch, and then hundos from Ryan the next day. Ooo.
All-Time Great Playoff Games
At the top of the list of course is Yankee Don Larsen’s World Series perfect game in 1956 against the Brooklyn Dodgers. But with just seven strikeouts was he really dominant?
The only other post-season no-hitter was by Roy Halladay in the 2010 NLDS. He faced the minimum 27 batters, but allowed a walk. With only eight Ks, I again question whether the dominance level approaches that of our three Astros pitchers.
Four other pitchers have thrown 15 strikeouts in a post-season game: Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Sandy Koufax, and Livan Hernandez. Kevin Brown once threw 16.
My pick for the most dominant post-season pitching performance of all-time, one I saw on TV, is that of Bob Gibson, who struck out 17 Detroit Tigers in Game one of the 1968 World Series.
Say what you will about pitching records from 1968. Indeed, too many of them were set that year, especially ERA records. It was so bad they lowered the mound the next year. Gibson’s 1.12 that year is still the modern era record.
However, it was not a time of elevated strikeout records. 2019 is the year of elevated strikeout records. The K% this year is the highest in history, 23%. It has gone up every year since 2008, when it was 17.5%.
In 1968 the K% was 15.8%, and yet Bob Gibson struck out 17 batters in a World Series game, the playoff record, while walking only one. It still stands as the greatest playoff pitching performance in history in my opinion, a complete game shutout victory.
But Cole and Verlander are not done with their run in 2019. Watch out Bob.
What was the most dominant playoff pitching performance in the history of the Astros?
This poll is closed
Gerrit Cole, 2019 ALDS
Justin Verlander. 2017 ALCS
Mike Scott. 1986 NLCS