The Most Clutch Postseason Pitchers of All Time
The Major League Baseball playoffs are all about pitching.
Some of the greatest baseball managers have been doomed by hurlers who couldn’t get it done in the clutch. But these are the guys who didn’t have that problem.
Here are the best big-game pitchers in MLB history.
Mariano Rivera, Relief Pitcher
Teams: New York Yankees (1995-2013)
Mariano Rivera, simply, is the greatest relief pitcher and most successful postseason pitcher of all time.
Rivera’s 0.70 playoff earned run average is the lowest in MLB history, and his .889 win percentage is second only to Lefty Gomez. Rivera’s 141 playoff innings are ninth-most in MLB history — and he’s the only primary reliever in the top 10 — and his 42 postseason saves are more than double that of Brad Lidge’s 18, who is second on the list.
Rivera’s postseason clout is what made his two most famous collapses — in the 2001 World Series and 2004 ALCS — so much more unbelievable. But even the best fail to come through at times.
Andy Pettitte, Starting Pitcher
Teams: New York Yankees (1995-2003, 2007-2013), Houston Astros (2004-06)
No pitcher in MLB history has thrown more playoff innings (276.2) or has more postseason wins (19) than Pettitte, who was the best pitcher of the Yankees’ dynasty in the late 1990s.
Pettitte didn’t allow an earned run on the road in the World Series until his fourth start, Game 2 of the 2001 World Series, and he won the ALCS MVP in 2001.
In 2003, he was the Yankees’ stopper, winning three Game 2s after the Bombers fell in Game 1 of the ALDS, ALCS and World Series.
But many forget that Pettitte wasn’t just clutch in the Bronx. He threw 25.1 innings with the Astros, helping them reach the World Series in 2005.
John Smoltz, Starting Pitcher
Teams: Atlanta Braves (1988-2008), Boston Red Sox (2009), St. Louis Cardinals (2009)
John Smoltz was so clutch it’s hard to believe he only had one World Series championship to his name.
Smoltz boasts the second-most wins (15) in the third-most playoff innings of all time (209) and the ninth-best postseason win percentage (.789) in MLB history.
Unfortunately for him, he was on the wrong side of two 1-0 World Series classics — against Jack Morris and the Twins in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series and Andy Pettitte and the Yankees in Game 5 of the 1996 Fall Classic — or else he and the Braves may have had a different legacy.
Tom Glavine, Starting Pitcher
Teams: Atlanta Braves (1987-2002, 2008), New York Mets (2003-07)
Tom Glavine is the only pitcher in Atlanta Braves history to win a World Series-clinching game, which is quite remarkable.
Glavine boasts the second-most innings in MLB postseason history (218.1) and trails only Pettitte and Smoltz for playoff wins with 14.
The Hall of Fame southpaw also was the 1995 World Series MVP, clinching the crown with eight one-hit innings in Atlanta’s 1-0 win over the Indians in Game 6.
Don Larsen, Starting Pitcher
Teams: St. Louis Blues (1953), Baltimore Orioles (1954, 1965), New York Yankees (1955-59), Kansas City Athletics (1960-61), Chicago White Sox (1961), San Francisco Giants (1962-64), Houston Astros (1965), Chicago Cubs (1967)
Don Larsen only made six playoff starts, five with the Yankees, and surrendered five runs in four innings in his first postseason outing for New York in Game 4 of the 1955 Fall Classic against the Dodgers.
But he did not allow more than two earned runs in any subsequent playoff appearance, and that stretch was highlighted by his perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, the only perfecto in Fall Classic history, which earned him the MVP of that year’s World Series.
Larsen was mostly the Yankees' No. 2 starter behind Whitey Ford, helping them reach the World Series in four straight years (from 1955 to 1958) and claim a pair of championships.
Babe Ruth, Starting Pitcher
Teams: Boston Red Sox (1914-18), New York Yankees (1920-34), Boston Braves (1935)
It’s easy to lose sight of the fact Ruth is widely considered the greatest hitter of all time, but his playoff pitching resume is no slouch either.
Ruth won all three of his World Series starts as a member of the Red Sox, allowing only three earned runs in 31 innings, including 14 innings of six-hit, one-run ball in Game 2 of the 1916 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
His 0.87 earned run average is fifth-lowest in World Series history, and Ruth was the ace of Boston’s staff that won two World Series championships in 1916 and 1918.
Sandy Koufax, Starting Pitcher
Teams: Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1955-66)
Sandy Koufax is widely considered the greatest pitcher of all time — and for good reason.
The Los Angeles Dodgers ace was a two-time World Series MVP with a 0.95 ERA in 57 innings.
In 1965, he allowed just one earned run in 24 innings over three starts, with a pair of shutouts in Games 5 and on the road in Game 7, helping Los Angeles to its second championship in three seasons.
Koufax retired at 30, and it isn’t hard to imagine what could’ve been for his career if he hadn’t called it quits so soon.
Christy Mathewson, Starting Pitcher
Teams: New York Giants (1900-16)
Sure, Christy Mathewson pitched in the dead-ball era, but his playoff numbers are ridiculous.
The dominant righty threw 101.2 innings in 11 starts, finishing his playoff career with a 0.97 earned run average. Mathewson had four career World Series shutouts, including in his first three starts (in six days) against the Philadelphia A’s in the 1905 Fall Classic.
Madison Bumgarner, Starting Pitcher
Teams: San Francisco Giants (2010-present)
The Giants won three World Series in a span of five seasons, and Bumgarner is largely responsible for those three championships.
Simply put, the Giants lefty is the most dominant pitcher in present-day World Series history. Bumgarner boasts a 4-0 record with a 0.25 ERA in five Fall Classic appearances.
He was named MVP of both the 2014 NLCS and World Series, picking up two wins and a five-inning save in Game 7 against the Royals.
Whitey Ford, Starting Pitcher
Teams: New York Yankees (1950-67)
The Chairman of the Board was the ace of an incredible six World Series-winning teams, and he was the MVP of the 1961 series, where he picked up two wins, tossing 14 scoreless innings in two starts against the Reds.
Ford’s 10 World Series wins are the most in MLB history — and a mark that likely will never come close to being touched again. Only Mariano Rivera made more World Series appearances than Ford's 20.
Jon Lester, Starting Pitcher
Teams: Boston Red Sox (2006-14), Oakland A’s (2014), Chicago Cubs (2015-present)
Jon Lester is a three-time World Series champion, pitching in two clinching games in his career. He started the clincher for the Red Sox in Game 4 of the 2007 World Series, less than 15 months removed from cancer treatment.
He also was co-MVP of the 2016 NLCS, helping the Cubs reach the Fall Classic for the first time in 71 years.
Then, facing the Indians, Lester won Game 5 and came out of the bullpen in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, tossing three innings of one-run, three-hit ball.
Jack Morris, Starting Pitcher
Teams: Detroit Tigers (1977-1990), Minnesota Twins (1991), Toronto Blue Jays (1992-93), Cleveland Indians (1994)
Jack Morris had a regular-season ERA of 3.90, but that all changed when the lights turned brightest.
Morris was an instrumental pitcher on three World Series championship teams, including the 1991 Minnesota Twins, where he won two of his three Fall Classic starts and pitched a 10-inning shutout in their 1-0 win in Game 7.
A whopping five of his 13 playoff starts, including three of his seven World Series starts, were complete games.
Curt Schilling, Starting Pitcher
Teams: Baltimore Orioles (1988-90), Houston Astros (1991), Philadelphia Phillies (1992-2000), Arizona Diamondbacks (2001-03), Boston Red Sox (2004-07)
You might recall the Bloody Sock game, or maybe you remember Schilling’s co-World Series MVP as a member of the Diamondbacks in 2001, or perhaps you were around when he tossed a shutout over the loaded Blue Jays in the 1993 World Series.
Love him or hate him, Schilling authored his fair share of memorable playoff moments. His .846 playoff win percentage is third best in MLB history, and his 11 postseason wins are tied for sixth most.
Lefty Gomez, Starting Pitcher
Teams: New York Yankees (1930-42), Washington Senators (1943)
Only one pitcher who threw more than 30 playoff innings in his career had a perfect win-loss record: Lefty Gomez.
The Yankees ace won all six of his World Series decisions, helping New York to five championships — including four in a row between 1936 and 1939.
Gomez won the World Series clincher twice, in consecutive years in 1936 and 1937, and finished with a 2.86 ERA in 50.1 innings.
Bob Gibson, Starting Pitcher
Teams: St. Louis Cardinals (1959-75)
No pitcher in baseball history was more feared than Bob Gibson. He didn’t pitch in many postseason games, but the ones he did were legendary.
Gibson was the World Series MVP in two of the three Fall Classics in which he played, and an astounding eight of his nine playoff starts were complete games — with two shutouts.
He finished with a .778 win percentage, tied for 10th best in MLB history, but remarkably, he lost his final playoff outing when he allowed four runs in nine innings in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series against the Detroit Tigers.