October 19, 2011
When C.J. Wilson(notes) and Chris Carpenter square off in Wednesday night's Game 1 of the World Series, there are any number of reasons why we won't see one of the best pitcher's duels in postseason history. Cold weather. Overmanaging managers. The strain of an already-long season. High-power offenses with a propensity to attack.
As such, I don't think anyone is really expecting to see either pitcher go out and deliver a signature win. No, the jobs of both will be to pitch five or six solid innings before handing the ball over to the great bullpens that got them here.
If that happens, they really won't have anything to be ashamed of, because there really haven't been that many great pitching duels over the past 20 years of World Series openers. With an eye toward nostalgia, I decided to look at all the matchups and rank them by the combined game scores from each starter.
20. 2004 —Woody Williams, St. Louis vs. Tim Wakefield(notes), Boston (43)
If this series seemed like it was over from the beginning, that's because it was. Williams gave up seven runs over 2 1/3 innings, giving Wakefield enough cushion to be terrible himself. The knuckleballer gave up five runs and didn't make it out of the fourth.
19. 1997 — Orel Hershiser, Cleveland vs. Livan Hernandez(notes), Florida (65)
Seven pitchers appear on this list twice and Hershiser's name is definitely the unlikeliest. What's also surprising is that Hershiser appears on opposite ends with his seven earned runs over 4 1/3 innings dragging down a serviceable performance from Hernandez (three runs, 5 1/3 innings) in the 1997 opener.
18. 2010 — Cliff Lee(notes), Texas vs. Tim Lincecum(notes), San Francisco (66)
There was a lot of anticipation for this matchup at this time last year, but the promise was not fulfilled. Lee gave up six runs and didn't make it out of the fourth, while Lincecum gave up four before exiting in the sixth.
17. 1993 — Curt Schilling, Philadelphia vs. Juan Guzman, Toronto (75)
Schilling was staked to an early lead in his first World Series start, but he allowed solo homers to Devon White and John Olerud that surrendered the lead and yanked Guzman — who only went five innings — off the hook for the loss.
16. 1996 — John Smoltz(notes), Atlanta vs. Andy Pettitte(notes), New York (80)
Smoltz held up his end of the bargain during Atlanta's 12-1 win by allowing only one run over six innings, but a young Pettite did not. He gave up the same line as Williams did in '04 — seven runs over 2 1/3 innings — and would have to wait until Game 5 to totally redeem himself by pitching 8 1/3 scoreless innings in a 1-0 Yankees victory.
15. 2007 — Josh Beckett(notes), Boston vs. Josh Francis, Colorado (87)
Here's another case of one pitcher being up for the challenge and the other one immediately wilting. Beckett struck out nine and allowed only one run over seven, but Francis gave up six runs and 10 hits over four, completely putting an end to any momentum that "Rocktober" may have had.
14. 2002 — Jason Schmidt(notes), S.F. vs. Jarrod Washburn(notes), Los Angeles (88)
This one was as weird as it gets. Both pitchers posted identical game scores (44) after each going 5 2/3 innings. Then both bullpens came on to throw 3 1/3 scoreless and hitless innings. In the end, though, it was the extra run that Washburn allowed that spelled the difference in a 4-3 Giants win.
13. 2005 — Jose Contreras(notes), Chicago vs. Roger Clemens, Houston (92)
The only World Series Game 1 start of Clemens' career ended quickly with a Jermaine Dye(notes) homer in the first inning, two more earned runs in the second and a fast exit after two innings due to an aggravated hamstring. Contreras earned his third win of the '05 postseason after allowing three runs over seven innings.
12. 1998 — Kevin Brown, San Diego vs. David Wells, New York (92)
Wells gave up five runs over seven innings, but he still collected the win after his teammates put up seven runs — only two of which were charged to Brown — in the bottom of the seventh inning
11. 1991 — Charlie Leibrandt, Atlanta vs. Jack Morris, Minnesota (92)
What might've happened had the '91 World Series started with the pitching matchup that ended it? The world will never know. John Smoltz had started Game 7 of the NLCS only two days earlier, forcing Charlie Leibrandt into service. The old vet was less than stellar, giving up four runs in four innings before being yanked from the World Series rotation. Morris, the eventual MVP and Game 7 winner, would give up two runs over seven innings in the Twins' 5-2 victory. (John Smoltz and Morris, of course, would both be amazing in the classic Game 7.)
10. 2003 — Brad Penny(notes), Florida vs. David Wells, New York (98)
Both pitchers made relief appearances in Game 7s of their respective League Championship Series, but were able to take the ball for the start of the World Series. Penny went 5 1/3 innings before handing the 3-2 win over to Dontrelle Willis(notes) and Ugueth Urbina. Wells, meanwhile, allowed three runs over seven innings and was charged with the loss.
9. 2006 — Anthony Reyes(notes), St. Louis vs. Justin Verlander(notes), Detroit (104)
You could probably win a lot of bar bets Wednesday night asking people who last started a World Series Game 1 for the Cardinals. Reyes also pitched very well, allowing only two runs over eight innings. Verlander wasn't "Verlander" back then and he keeps this matchup from the top with six earned runs over five innings in the World Series' much-anticipated return to Detroit.
8. 1990 — Jose Rijo, Cincinnati vs. Dave Stewart, Oakland (107)
Stewart came into the game riding a six-game postseason winning streak, but was gone by the fourth inning after giving up four runs, including a two-run homer to Eric Davis in the first inning. Rijo was much better, pitching seven scoreless innings as the Reds landed their first big blow against the heavily favored A's with a 7-0 win.
7. 2001 — Curt Schilling, Arizona vs. Mike Mussina, New York (108)
Schilling was unbelievable, striking out eight over seven innings of one-run, three-hit baseball. But Mike Mussina? Not so much. The Yankees starter was chased after giving up five runs — only three of them earned — over the first three innings.
6. 2008 — Cole Hamels(notes), Philadelphia vs. Scott Kazmir(notes), Tampa Bay (110)
And you thought seeing Jeff Francis'(notes) name on this list was weird. Kazmir was actually decent, though, posting a quality start with three runs over six innings. But it was no match for Hamels, who continued his amazing '08 postseason run with two runs over seven innings in a 3-2 win.
5. 2000 — Al Leiter, New York (NL) vs. Andy Pettitte, New York (AL) (112)
This game — a 4-3 Yankees win — took 12 innings to complete, but both pitchers started out strong with the game scoreless through 5 1/2 innings. Leiter ended up surrendering two runs over seven while Pettitte was charged with three over 6 2/3, but neither figured into the decision as Chuck Knoblauch's sac fly in the bottom of the ninth tied the game and sent it into extra innings.
4. 1992 — Tom Glavine(notes), Atlanta vs. Jack Morris, Toronto (135)
The Braves certainly remembered the last time they faced Morris in the postseason — 10 shutout innings in a Game 7 will do that to anyone — but neither pitcher came into the start with a lot of confidence. Glavine had been lit up in Game 6 of the NLCS while Morris didn't have his best stuff in the ALCS. In the end, it was Glavine who righted his ship, giving up only one run over nine innings in a 3-1 win while Morris gave up three over six.
3. 1999 — Greg Maddux, Atlanta vs. Orlando Hernandez, New York (136)
It's not a surprise that Maddux's name appears twice in the top three of this list, but this listing was El Duque's work. Hernandez struck out 10 Braves batters over seven innings in New York's 4-1 win. Maddux was awesome over seven scoreless innings, but he faltered in the eighth inning and was tagged with two earned runs.
2. 1995 — Orel Hershiser, Cleveland vs. Greg Maddux, Atlanta (141)
After the strike ate the World Series in 1994, Maddux gave fans the best kind of welcome-back present, pitching a two-hit complete-game victory in a 3-2 Braves win. Hershiser gave up three runs over six innings, but struck out seven Atlanta batters.
1. 2009 — Cliff Lee, Philadelphia vs. CC Sabathia(notes), New York (147)
This game felt really special when we watched it and it turns out that it's the best of the last 20 years. Cliff Lee struck out 10 batters and did not allow an earned run in a six-hit complete-game victory. Sabathia did his part, giving up two runs over seven. A weak four-run effort from the Yankees' bullpen gave the Phillies a 6-1 victory and destroyed a great indicator of how good the battle of the aces really turned out to be.