Wassell: After James Paxton’s 2 great starts, a look at 5 other great pitching performances
James Paxton is great. The only obstacle he’s really up against is health, and at the moment it doesn’t seem like he’s gonna be calling out sick anytime soon.
The last two starts he’s put together for the Mariners are as good as any two I’ve ever seen in baseball. He flirted with the MLB single-game strikeout record last week before being pulled from the game after seven innings with 16 Ks. Then the Mariners lefty followed up that outing with a no-hitter, and at times he made it look pretty easy.
Because these starts didn’t occur in the postseason, they’re likely to be forgotten by everyone except Mariner fans, which is a shame. But from now on whenever someone asks me about random impressive pitching performances, it’s going to be tough to not acknowledge what we’ve seen in May of 2018 from Paxton. And he’s not done yet!
So what does Paxton have to contend with if he wishes to truly enter the conversation of best-ever pitching performances? If you scour the history of baseball, you’ll find it’s an overwhelming task to narrow down the vast history of pitching feats, so I’m limiting this list to the first five that I could recall. They all occurred in my lifetime and as I look back at them now, I still shake my head.
In 1999 and 2000, Pedro Martinez had the best two-year stretch of any pitcher ever. Look at his stats and then combine them with the fact that he pitched in the heart of the PED era and it’s not really debatable. His finest hour came on Oct. 11, 1999. Pedro started Game 1 of the ALDS five days before that, but was removed after four innings with a strained back muscle. In Game 5, the Red Sox and Indians had slugged their way to an 8-8 tie through 3½ innings before Boston manager Jimy Williams sent for Martinez out of the bullpen. He went on to strike out eight over 6 innings of no-hit ball, and he did it against names like Kenny Lofton, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome. The Sox won the game and the series.
Morris spent only one year in Minnesota, but he might be the best single-season free agent pickup of all-time. He won Game 1 and only allowed one run in Game 4 before Atlanta tied the series at two games apiece. In Game 7, we saw something we might never see in ANY game ever again, let alone in a World Series: a 10-inning shutout. It wasn’t that Morris was unhittable that night (he allowed seven hits), but the way he battled out of jam after jam, under that kind of pressure in the biggest game of his life – refusing to come out of the game – makes this my personal favorite of all pitching performances ever. Minnesota scratched across a single run in the 10th to win the game and the series. Morris was the MVP.
From Aug. 30 through Sept. 28, 1988, Hershiser doesn’t allow a single run over 59 straight innings for the Dodgers. He went 6-0 to end the season (all complete game shutouts), and then in his final start, he threw 10 more shutout innings before the Padres scored two runs in the 16th inning to win the game.
Just pause and think about that last sentence for a second.
Next up was the NLCS against the heavily favored Mets. Hershiser ‘struggled’ a bit, allowing New York to score a few key runs in Game 1 and Game 3 losses, but then in Game 4 he came out of the bullpen in the 12th to get the save and tie the series. In Game 7, LA manager Tommy Lasorda called on Hershiser yet again, and he shut out the Mets 6-0. How could he top that? How about making Jose Canseco and his Oakland A’s teammates look foolish in the World Series? Hershiser finished them off with more complete game performances in Game 2 and the final Game 5. Yeah, he’s the MVP for both series, not to mention the 1988 Cy Young Award winner.
He started six games, going 5-1 and allowing just 25 hits over 41 innings in the Diamondbacks’ World Series run. In the NLCS against Atlanta, he threw a shutout to beat Greg Maddux, then closed out the series in Game 5 with a win over Tom Glavine. In the World Series against the Yankees, Johnson tossed another shutout in Game 2. Then after three emotional losses in the Bronx that included an implosion by Arizona closer Byung Hyung-Kim, Johnson came back and stifled the Yankees in Game 6, sending the series to a seventh game. Curt Schilling gave up a solo shot to Alfonso Soriano to give New York a 2-1 lead in that final game, so Arizona manager Bob Brenly went to Miguel Batista and then quickly to Johnson out of the bullpen to keep the game close enough that the Diamondbacks could still come back and win the game. Randy retired all four batters he faced before Arizona rallied for two runs off Mariano Rivera, ending a Yankees dynasty. For his effort, Johnson split MVP honors with Schilling (whose 2004 “bloody sock”
performance should probably put him on this list, too).
1. Madison Bumgarner (2014 postseason)
Bumgarner’s accomplishment is eerily similar to Johnson’s, but the difference is that he had to get through an additional round of playoffs – something no other pitcher on this list was faced with. He shut out the Pirates on the road in the Wild Card game, striking out 10. Then in the NLCS and World Series, the Giants didn’t lose a single game that he appeared in. In each of his postseason starts, he pitched no less than seven innings, and as the stage got bigger, he got better. The World Series saw Bumgarner win Game 1 and Game 5, including a shutout in the latter. Then in an epic Game 7, he came out of the bullpen in Kansas City and threw five innings of scoreless relief, sending the Giants to their third title in five years. Do I even need to point out that he won the MVP for both the NLCS and World Series?
I love baseball.