There have been just over 1,250 postseason starts since 1903, but few have been better than Cliff Lee's(notes) appearance in last Sunday's NLCS Game 3 against the Dodgers. He went eight scoreless innings allowing only three hits, striking out 10 and walking nobody. Additionally, only one runner got past first base.
*Game Score is a metric devised by Bill James that attempts to index how good a start is, by rewarding the pitcher for innings pitched and strikeouts, and penalizing them for hits, walks, and runs allowed. It more or less operates on a 100-point scale — 0 is atrocious, 100 is tremendous, 50 is average, and scores below zero or above 100 are almost unheard of. Cliff Lee's score was 86 — not quite legendary, but certainly quite good.)
Without further delay, here are nine of the best postseason starts of the last 20 years:
98: Roger Clemens(notes), ALCS Game 4 10/14/2000 In his second season in Yankee pinstripes, the Rocket annihilated Seattle in 2000 to the tune of a complete game one-hit shutout, with 15 strikeouts and just two walks, for a game score of 98. (The immortal Al Martin spoiled the no-hit bid with a double in the 7th.) Clemens owns the highest game score in history, just in front of Dave McNally (97), Babe Ruth (97) and even Don Larsen's perfect game in the World Series (94).
93: Josh Beckett(notes) NLCS Game 5 10/12/2003 This is the moment that the Josh Beckett legend was born. The Marlins were down 3-1 to the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS and the 23-year old Beckett started Game 5 and pitched a complete game shutout. He allowed just two hits (both singles), one walk, and struck out 11 batters. The Marlins won the last three games of the series en route to their second World Championship.
92: Kevin Brown, NLDS Game 1 9/29/1998; 89: Kevin Brown, NLCS Game 2 10/8/1998 Kevin Brown pitched two of the greatest starts in playoff history in two successive playoff series, with 16 strikeouts in eight shutout innings against the Astros and then 11 strikeouts in nine shutout innings against the Braves a week later. His success didn't last, though. Brown gave up four runs in 6 1/3 against the Yankees in the World Series and his Padres were swept.
91: Randy Johnson(notes), NLCS Game 1 10/16/2001; 91: Randy Johnson, World Series Game 2 10/28/2001 The pitcher who brought down the Yankee dynasty, Randy Johnson won three games in the 2001 World Series, one by way of a complete-game shutout — something he'd treated the Atlanta Braves to just two weeks earlier. Johnson and Beckett are only the eighth and ninth pitchers ever to record multiple complete-game shutouts in a single postseason and the only ones in the last 20 years.
90: Livan Hernandez(notes), NLCS Game 5 10/12/1997 Blame Eric Gregg if you want, but Livan was awfully dominant this day. He went the whole way, giving up just three hits and one run (on a Michael Tucker(notes) solo shot) while striking out 15 Braves and walking just two.
89: Curt Schilling(notes), NLDS Game 1 10/9/2001 Nearly as good as Johnson was teammate Curt Schilling, who destroyed the Cardinals that same October, going the distance and giving up just three hits and one walk while striking out nine.
89: Kevin Millwood(notes), NLDS Game 2 10/6/1999 Millwood was just 24 when he broke out with the Braves, finishing third in the Cy Young voting. He kept it up against the Astros, allowing only one hit — a Ken Caminiti solo homer — in a complete-game victory that would help lead the Braves to the last World Series of their "era." However, like Kevin Brown's Padres, they wound up losing to the Yankees.
- Kevin Brown