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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Unexpected Postseason Gems

Sometimes greatness comes unexpectedly. Just ask my wife. (Although to be honest, I haven't really delivered any greatness yet. I look like shit and basically, that's what I am.) In the last 20 years there have been hundreds of postseason games with great drama and excitement. Many of these games have been pitched by players we don't all remember, or want to remember. And sometimes, on rare occasions, one of these rather unspectacular pitchers steps up and delivers a performance of an ace and forces us to remember them. But since we don't, I'll list some of them here.

I hereby present to you the 10 most unexpectedly dominant performances by a pitcher in the last 20 years of postseason play. Enjoy.

10. 1993 NLCS Game 3: With the Braves and Phillies tied at a game apiece, the series shifted to Atlanta. Phillies starter Danny Jackson delivered 7.2 innings of one run baseball and knocked in the winning run of a 2-1 win that turned the series around and led the Phillies to a 4-2 series upset. Danny Jackson was a rather unspectacular 12-10 with a 3.77 ERA during the regular season and this was his only win of the 1993 playoffs.

9. 1993 ALCS Game 2: The 1993 season was the best of Wilson Alvarez's career. He posted a record of 15-8 and his 2.95 ERA was second in the league. It was his first season as a full time starting pitcher and in his first career postseason start, with his team down 2-0 to the World Champion Blue Jays and on the road in Toronto Alvarez delivered the only postseason win of his career. He threw 9 innings of 1-run baseball to get the White Sox back in the series

8. 2002 ALCS Game 1: Joe Mays concluded the 2002 season with a 4-8 record and an ERA of 5.38. Coming off of a terrible start and loss in the ALDS, not much was expected out of Mays in his Game 1 start of the ALCS, but Mays delivered 8 innings allowing 4 hits and 1 unearned run to lead the Twins to a game 1 win over the Angels. Unfortunately for them, it would be the only game the Twins would win in the series, and the game remains the only postseason win of Mays' career.

7. 1987 NLCS Game 2: Coming off a season which saw him go 10-12 with an ERA of 3.43, Dave Dravecky took the ball on the road with his Giants down 1-0 in their best of seven series with St. Louis. Dravecky delivered a 2-hit masterpiece to even up the series. He would later take a hard luck loss in game 6, and 2 years later, after only 9 more starts, he was out of baseball.

6. 1987 NLCS Game 7: During the 1987 season, Danny Cox was a pedestrian 11-9 with a 3.88 ERA. Having already lost game 4 of the series to the Giants, Cox again took the mound in Game 7. This time, however, Cox did something that he didn't do in any of his 31 regular season starts in the 1987 season, and in fact he had not done since 1985: he threw a shutout. Cox's gem sent the Cardinals into the World Series to face the Royals. Unfortunately for Cox, his career was shortlived. 31 starts and 398.1 innings later he was out of baseball. Cox remained otherwise unspectacular in his career, finishing with a record of 74-75, but on October 14, 1987 he was pretty close.

5. 1997 NLCS Game 4: With a rotation that featured future Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, Denny Neagle often found himself relegated to the sidelines. He didn't pitch in the '97 Division Series, but after losses by Maddux and Smoltz, the Braves found themselves down 2-1 to the Florida Marlins. Atlanta turned to Neagle to start game 4 and he took advantage of the opportunity, tossing a 4-hit shutout with 7 K's to even the series at 2-2. It would be the only start that Neagle would get to make that postseason, as the Braves were eliminated by Florida (and umpire Eric Gregg) in 6 games.

4. 1992 NLCS Game 5: In his mere 19 regular season starts in 1992, Bob Walk allowed nearly a hit per inning and his 60 K's against 43 walks were not encouraging. In game 2 of the '92 NLCS, Walk pitched 2.2 innings of relief, allowing 3 hits, 2 walks and 4 runs. Facing Steve Avery (1991 NLCS MVP against the Pirates) and possible elimination in game 5 of the 1992 NLCS against the Atlanta Braves, the Pirates sent Walk to the mound with low expectations. All Walk did was throw a complete game 3-hitter, allowing only 1 run and stave off elimination. It would be the last big game of his career, as Walk would pitch only 1 more season in the majors, going 13-14 with an ERA of 5.68 in 1993.

3. 2006 ALDS Game 3: With the series tied at a game apiece, the Tigers returned home for two games against the dreaded Yankees and their modern day murderers row: a lineup that featured 9 all-stars and 2 MVP's. The Tigers countered with Kenny Rogers, who had not beaten the Yankees since 1994 and whose postseason resume revealed an 0-3 record with an ERA of 8.81. Rogers was fired up, however, and lead the Tigers to a surprise victory with 7 2/3 scoreless and downright shocking innings. It was a game Detroit was not supposed to win, in a series they were not supposed to win. But Rogers' performance turned the series and the next day, they did just that, eliminating the Yankees 3-1.

2. 2000 NLDS Game 4: With an 11-6 regular season record and a 5.06 ERA, Bobby Jones was relegated to being the number 4 starter for the Mets when the playoffs began. Up 2 games to 1 in the series, the Mets sent Jones to the mound against Barry Bonds and the Giants. Naturally, Jones twirled a 1-hit shutout, including an 0-4 day from Bonds. The only hit Jones allowed all day was a harmless double by Jeff Kent in the 5th inning. The Mets clinched the series 3-1 and went on the beat the Cardinals in the NLCS. As the Mets charged to the World Series, Jones made 2 other starts, totalling 9 innings and allowed 10 hits and 9 runs. Before his 1-hit masterpiece, Jones hadn't thrown a shutout in the big leagues since 1997. The next year, in 2001, he signed with San Diego and in his 2 years out west he went 15-27 with an ERA north of 5.00. He called it quits after 2002.

1. 2004 NLDS Game 3: You could argue that Jose Lima had 2 good seasons as a major league pitcher. 2004 was not one of them. In 1998-99 he went a combined 37-18 with an ERA slightly over 3.50. In 2004, Lima had an ERA over 4.00, gave up over a hit per inning and struck out only 93 batters in 170 innings. In the 2004 NLDS, Lima's Dodgers were facing the St. Louis Cardinals and their big offense lead by Pujols, Rolen and Edmonds. The Cardinals won 105 games in 2004 and lead the National League in runs scored, hits, batting average and slugging percentage. As expected, the Cardinals dominated the Dodgers in the first two games of the series, scoring 16 runs in the process. But that all changed when the Dodgers sent Lima to the mound for Game 3.
Lima tossed 9 innings of 5-hit shutout baseball at the Cardinals to get the Dodgers on the board. How unlikely was this? Don't worry I'll tell you. It was Lima's second career postseason start, and the first (in 1999 against the Braves) didn't go well. In Lima's career in the regular season, he has made 235 starts. Exactly 1 (one) of those was a shutout and that game took place in 1998, a full 6 years earlier. Lima hadn't thrown a complete game since 2001. (It's worth noting that Lima made 32 starts during the following 2005 season for Kansas City and was about as bad as you can be giving up 219 hits in 168 innings on route to a 5-16 record and a 6.99 ERA.) Not surprisingly, the Cardinals came out the next day in game 4 and scored 6 runs in a victory to advance to the NLCS, but I'm sure most of them were still scratching their heads about what Jose Lima had done to them the day before. I bet some of them still are.


Blogger DWTHTB said...

Was McCarver doing games back in 1992? Please tell me he wasn't. I can only imagine the mindless banter coming out of his mouth. So far Bob Walk hasn't lived up to his name and "walked" anyone yet...Bob Walk with a complete game tonight and only 2 walks showing that his performance is not associated with his name in any way...etc...

10:40 PM  

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