CINCINNATI — The so-called year of the pitcher has made a seamless transition into the postseason. Obviously, Roy Halladay’s no-hitter against the Reds in Game 1 of the NLDS stands out, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Heading into Saturday’s action, the Texas Rangers had allowed just one run against Tampa Bay in the first two games of the ALDS. That wouldn’t be as extraordinary if the Rays hadn’t finished the regular season with the best record in the American League and were one game behind the Phillies for best record in the majors.
In Game 1 Texas got a 10-strikeouts, zero-walks gem from Cliff Lee followed by 6 1/3 innings of shutout ball from lefty C.J. Wilson, a pitcher wrapping up his first season as a starter in the big leagues and his first real chance to star since 2005 when he was in Double-A.
Cole Hamels again tore through the Reds’ lineup in Game 3 of the NLDS, clinching the series with a five-hit, nine-strikeout shutout. As a result, the Phillies got their first-ever sweep of a playoff series (they were swept, coincidentally, by the Reds in 1976), posting a 1.00 ERA and holding the Reds to a .124 batting average.
Think about that for a second… the Reds led the National League in runs, batting average, homers, on-base percentage and slugging, but got just four runs and 11 hits in three games.
The year of the pitcher, indeed.
Nevertheless, the pitching performance that everyone has been yapping about since it went down on Thursday night is Tim Lincecum’s 14-strikeout, two-hitter in the Giants’ 1-0 victory over the Braves in Game 1of the other NLDS matchup. Forget that the Giants only scratched out one (controversial) run against Derek Lowe or the fact that the Giants weren’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball, the big theme of this postseason is all pitching.
Then again, that doesn’t make this season any different from any other baseball playoffs. However, through just the first round this year there have been as many top-shelf pitching performances by guys in their playoff debuts in recent memory. In fact, there has even been some chatter that Lincecum’s two-hitter was a better pitched game than Halladay’s no-hitter.
Certainly by the Bill James devised Game Score, Lincecum’s gem registered a 96 and was the second-best pitched game in the history of the postseason. That, of course, is according to the formula that skews toward strikeouts and innings pitched, but gives no credence to efficiency, the significance of the game, or emotion. For instance, the highest rated postseason game ever was a 98 by Roger Clemens’ one-hit, 15-strikeout victory over the Mariners in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS, a game that gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead in the series.
Meanwhile, Jack Morris’ 10-inning shutout in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series rated just an 84. Hamels’ shutout on Sunday night to beat the Reds scored an 86 and the Phillies’ lefty threw a half-dozen fewer pitches and one less inning than Morris.
Plus, it wasn’t the seventh game of the World Series, either.
Anyway, to rate Lincecum’s two-hitter higher than Halladay’s no-hitter, Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series, or even Morris’ gritty gem, is just plain silly. This isn’t to take anything away from Lincecum, who was brilliant in the Giants’ Game 1 victory over the Braves, but it wasn’t nearly as good as Halladay’s no-hitter in Game 1.
Do we really need to spell it out?
Well, OK… try these:
- Halladay threw just the second no-hitter in postseason play. Moreover, Halladay was the first pitcher to carry a no-hitter into the eighth inning of a playoff game since Jim Lonborg did it in the 1967 World Series. The Major League Baseball postseason began in 1903 and has taken place every season since 1904 and 1994. Imagine the tension that goes on in a typical no-hitter, let alone one in the playoffs.
- Halladay threw a no-hitter against the team that led the league in every important offensive category (and even some unimportant ones), while Lincecum beat a team that struggled at the plate during the final month of the season and featured a lineup without Chipper Jones and Martin Prado.
- Did you see the swings the Reds took at the pitches Halladay threw? He owned them. Better yet, Halladay needed just 104 pitches to finish his no-hitter. Lincecum needed 119 pitches to finish his game and gave up a pair of doubles, including a ringing shot by Brian McCann, a hitter who has batted .381 in his career against the pitcher. Conversely, Halladay gave up 13 hits to the Reds in a loss in June, but figured out how to get them out in the playoffs.
- Lincecum gave up a hit to the first batter of the game, removing all the pressure and tension that goes with throwing a no-hitter. The kid could simply settle in and go about his work. Halladay was so good that it would have been shocking for him not to throw the no-hitter.
Frankly, it seems as some have claimed that Lincecum’s gem was better than the no-hitter just to be different or make an argument. Whatever. Either way, it’s not correct. Halladay’s no-hitter was dominant and sublime. It was a work of art—poetry come to life.
However, where Lincecum scores points comes from this interview with Wiley Wiggins, the actor that played Mitch Kramer in the phenomenal Dazed and Confused. Mitch Kramer was a pitcher who won big ballgames, too. That ought to count for something.