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Starting More Than One Sudden Death Game

Posted by Steve Lombardi on October 13, 2010

During the Rangers-Rays ALDS game last night, on TBS, Ron Darling talked about the two "Game Sevens" that he started in his career. And, this got me wondering: How many pitchers have started 2+ "winner take all" (or sudden death, if you prefer) games in their career?

Here's the answer:

Rk Player #Matching   W L W-L% ERA GS CG SHO SV IP H ER HR BB SO WHIP
1 Roger Clemens 5 Ind. Games 1 1 .500 4.05 5 0 0 0 26.2 28 12 3 4 21 1.20
2 Jaret Wright 3 Ind. Games 1 1 .500 3.71 3 0 0 0 17.0 16 7 3 9 13 1.47
3 John Smoltz 3 Ind. Games 1 0 1.000 0.81 3 1 1 0 22.1 16 2 0 4 16 0.90
4 Bret Saberhagen 3 Ind. Games 1 0 1.000 3.46 3 1 1 0 13.0 12 5 2 2 4 1.08
5 Bob Gibson 3 Ind. Games 2 1 .667 3.67 3 3 0 0 27.0 20 11 3 7 27 1.00
6 Kerry Wood 2 Ind. Games 1 1 .500 5.27 2 0 0 0 13.2 12 8 1 6 13 1.32
7 Pete Vuckovich 2 Ind. Games 0 0   4.63 2 0 0 0 11.2 19 6 0 5 7 2.06
8 Jeff Suppan 2 Ind. Games 1 0 1.000 1.38 2 0 0 0 13.0 5 2 1 7 8 0.92
9 Curt Schilling 2 Ind. Games 1 0 1.000 1.65 2 1 0 0 16.1 12 3 2 1 18 0.80
10 Nolan Ryan 2 Ind. Games 0 1 .000 5.54 2 0 0 0 13.0 12 8 0 4 15 1.23
11 Andy Pettitte 2 Ind. Games 0 1 .000 7.84 2 0 0 0 10.1 16 9 0 2 6 1.74
12 Blue Moon Odom 2 Ind. Games 1 0 1.000 0.96 2 0 0 0 9.1 4 1 0 6 5 1.07
13 Mark Mulder 2 Ind. Games 0 2 .000 3.18 2 0 0 0 11.1 16 4 0 3 11 1.68
14 Pedro Martinez 2 Ind. Games 1 0 1.000 5.02 2 0 0 0 14.1 17 8 2 2 14 1.33
15 Don Larsen 2 Ind. Games 0 1 .000 5.79 2 0 0 0 4.2 6 3 0 4 3 2.14
16 Don Gullett 2 Ind. Games 0 0   7.71 2 0 0 0 7.0 10 6 0 5 7 2.14
17 Ron Guidry 2 Ind. Games 0 0   7.11 2 0 0 0 6.1 10 5 1 1 4 1.74
18 Ron Darling 2 Ind. Games 0 1 .000 13.50 2 0 0 0 4.2 12 7 2 1 2 2.79
19 Lew Burdette 2 Ind. Games 1 1 .500 2.12 2 1 1 0 17.0 14 4 1 3 6 1.00
20 Steve Blass 2 Ind. Games 1 0 1.000 1.65 2 1 0 0 16.1 8 3 1 4 9 0.73
21 Jack Billingham 2 Ind. Games 0 1 .000 5.00 2 0 0 0 9.0 8 5 0 2 7 1.11
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/13/2010.

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Seeing this list, who would you say was/is the greatest "Sudden Death" starting pitcher of all-time?

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 13th, 2010 at 7:06 pm and is filed under Game Finders. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

43 Responses to “Starting More Than One Sudden Death Game”

  1. Certainly looks like Smoltz to me.

  2. Soup did surprisingly OK.

  3. First impression is Smoltz, though I think an argument could be made for Schilling. His team won both games. More innings per start. More K/9. Better WHIP. Clemens obviously has the bulk, but the results have been less than stellar. Gibson with 3 CGs is nice, but I can't see the individual game log to get a sense of what those games looked like. Not knowing the quality of opponent is tough, but I'd say it's probably between Smoltz, Schilling, and Gibson.

  4. Jaret Wright?

  5. Bob Gibson won the most games, therefore he is the greatest!

    /Crotchety baseball writer

  6. Gotta go with Gibson. All complete games, 1/3(!) of the outs as strikeouts, and didn't everybody who was anybody pick him as their "if I had one game to win" guy? And the most wins, so the BBWAA likes him, too. Did "golden pipes" McCarver catch all those, I wonder?

  7. Yeah, I too was going to say Smoltz at first glance, but he's missing almost 5 innings from the two starts that weren't the CG SHO. I think we all like to think that in that 'sudden death' game, our ace, our one guy we want to give the ball in that situation... is a guy we want to go 9 or hand it off to a guy named Mariano. Thus Gibson.

  8. Bob Gibson

  9. @BSK (#3):

    Those games are pretty famous, so they shouldn't be hard to find on this site: Game 7 of the 1964, 1967 and 1968 World Series.

    In fact, Gibby started Games 1, 4 and 7 in ALL three of those World Series. Amazing.

    He's got my vote -- and as a hardcore Braves fan, it's tough not to go with Smoltz. But there's only one choice here.

  10. Off of the above list ... probably Gibby, Schill, and Smoltzy, in that order, though I'd be fine with any of them.

    But God in Heaven, keep Rogah away from my hill. That no-good, tanking dirt bag asked out of the most important game of his career. No way I'm taking him in the clutch!

  11. I've gotta say Gibson as well, though the sample size is awfully small (due to the strict criteria). The most notable thing on the list to me, though, is that Darling wasn't lying: he talked, during the broadcast, about getting lit up in those games (to the point that he is still haunted by it), and he surely was!

  12. @Buckweaver: from the box scores, Gibson didn't start 1-4-7 in '64. Rather, he started 2-5-7, including pitching a 9 inning CG in game 7 on two days' rest after a 10 inning CG in game 5. Flat out stud.

  13. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    Well, Don Gullett was not the greatest. But his bullpens pitched 11 scoreless innings in his two poor sudden-death starts, and Clay Carroll won both games, thus becoming one of only six pitchers ever to be credited with two wins in sudden-death games: Link

  14. Big shocker that Mark "Big Game" Mulder is the only pitcher to ever lose two sudden death playoff games... (Rolls eyes -- I am not bitter that his collapse during the final month of the 2004 season cost me a fantasy championship, really!)

  15. Gibson was the best. The Game 7 he lost, he took a one-hitter into the seventh. With two outs, he gave up two singles. Then Flood misplayed a fly out into a triple. A double followed.
    In all three Series in which he pitched, I believe Gibson was the big difference-maker. He was the Series MVP in 64 and 67 and set a strikeout record in opener of the 68 Series.

  16. Lolich was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the 1968 Series and he was great the Series, too. He won all three of his starts.
    I was looking at his profile on the site and it says he was 6-1, 170 pounds. 170 pounds!?
    Just goes to show how much your perception can be off. I always thought of him as a fat guy.

  17. Seems to me that if the Braves had hit a little better Smoltz would be the unanimous choice here. He pitched in 3 games, struck out 16, gave up 2 runs and only one once? I wonder if they were taking him out for a pinch hitter or what?

  18. only *won* once

  19. Pedro's results could look a little different if Timlin had pitched the 8th in 2003. And while it wasn't a start, Pedro pitched 6 no-hit innings in relief in game 5 of the 99 ALDS. He probably still doesn't match Smoltz or Gibson, but his case as the best pitcher, if not starting pitcher, in sudden death games is stronger than it appears.

  20. Didn't Gibby also hit a HR in '67 game 7? Any points for that?

  21. RedSeat - is that you from back in the day at NetShrine?

  22. @Brian,

    yes, he did and I've always thought that a pitcher should get a pitching credit for any RBI he produces. Like a 1-0 win where the pitcher hits a home run should count more than any other win. lol.

  23. I just had to look this up because I was sure Randy Johnson had started 2 winner take all games. It turns out that despite his prolific career and history of playoff heroics, he's never once started a sudden death game. However, he has appeared in RELIEF in 3 sudden death games:
    1995 ALDS Game 5
    2001 WS Game 7
    2005 ALDS Game 5

    He got the win in those first two games.

  24. Gibson is my choice without question. All three of those starts were in the World Series. Most of the others had Division Series and Championship Series to help buff up the numbers.

  25. Buckweaver-

    Are all individual games available? I tried to click thruogh the links in the table and it implied I needed a subscription. I might have just been confused, as is so often the case.

  26. @23,

    Randy Johnson got the win in his first 2 games on your list (1995 ALDS and 2001 WS) after the Yankees blew the lead in the bottom of the 9th. In 1995 he even gave up the lead himself in the top of the ninth on a single to Randy Velarde. He was in line for the loss until Junior and Edgar blew up Wetteland in the bottom of that inning.

  27. If you were a left-handed pitcher that pitched for the Yankees anytime in your career, you did not do well in these sudden-death games.

    Guidry, Pettitte, Gullet all with ERA over 7. (Gullett is obviously a stretch, since he pitched his 2 games with the Reds before going to N.Y.)

  28. I am surprised that, of all of the great names on the list, no pitcher won ALL of their sudden death games.

  29. Let's ask this again in a couple weeks. Lee will be going 3-7 against the Yankees. He could conceivably go 2-5-7 against the NL team in WS.

  30. The Rangers have played only Tampa and the yankees in the postseason.
    But what team has the distinction of playing in the most postseason games against just 1 club? does anyone know right away?

  31. @30,

    I don't think there are any current franchises that have only played against 1 team in their post season history.

    Not sure if this is in the spirit of your question, but if you count all League/City/Nickname combinations as "teams", remarkably the "Brooklyn Dodgers" only played the "New York Yankees" in the post season (44 games in 7 World Series). I believe the 3 game series against the Giants in 1951 to decide the pennant counts as part of the regular season, so it would not be post season.

  32. Ironically Darling is the worst with some hideous numbers!

  33. If I was Ron Darling, I'd try not to remind people of those 2 games.

    Doesn't look like they were his best days.

  34. Also, looks like John Smoltz has a good case for being the best big game pitcher of all time.

  35. It would be cool if you could put in ERA+ relative to that year's regular season for each of games started. Because Smoltz 0.81 era is even more epic when considering the era he pitched in. Gibson was throwing in a pitcher's era, when a 3.67 era might not even mean he was pitching better than average.

  36. Given the small sample size and the circumstances leading up to the games I'm willing to cut Gibson a little bit of slack for his 3.67 ERA. His 3 starts are Game 7's of the World Series. Looking at the circumstances leading up to those starts:

    In 1964, he started 8 games from September 2 - October 4 - 2 on 4 days rest and the other 6 on 3 days rest. He threw 5 CG and pitched 8, 8, 8.2 IP in the other three. For good measure, after his last start he came back on the last day of the season and pitched 4 innings in relief because the Cardinals needed that game (they won the pennant by 1 game). Basically, he pitched an entire season's worth for a closer in today's game in one month and in the heat of the pennant race. After those 4 IP on October 4 he came back on the 8th and started Game 2 of the World Series. He came back on the 12th and pitched a 10 inning CG and then on the 15th he threw a 9 IP CG and gave up 5 runs. Reading McCarver's account of that game it's clear Gibson was done but the Cardinals had a 7-3 lead in the 9th before he gave up 2 solo HRs in the 9th and he was the best the Cardinals had so they stayed with him.

    In 1967 he came back after Clemente broke his leg in July with a single through the box. He missed 53 days and the Cardinals took it easy with him in September but once the World Series rolled around he started games 1, 4, and 7, pitched 3 CGs and won them all.

    In 1968 - well, everyone knows about Gibson's 1968 season. His September workload wasn't that great as the Cardinals won by 9 games, but he still pitched 52 innings in 6 starts. He again started and completed games 1, 4, and 7 of the World Series.

    No disrespect to Smoltz or anyone else on the list, but I don't think any of them could have done what Bob Gibson did for his teams leading up to those sudden death games (especially in 1964).

  37. It would be interesting to see the list of guys with multiple "win or go home" games. While those are not sudden death in the traditional sense, they still get at a very similar idea. Obviously, there is not as much "pressure" or "urgency" on the other team, but I'd still be curious to see how guys fared with their team facing elimination. Watching the "Four Days in October" doc made me remember that Schilling through a phenomenol game 6 while Pedro had a forgettable game 5.

  38. One additional note for Guidry... he started and did well (6.1 IP, 2 ER) in a winner take all Game 163 in 1978.

  39. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    #16/Tom Says: "I was looking at his profile on the site and it says he was 6-1, 170 pounds. 170 pounds!? Just goes to show how much your perception can be off. I always thought of him as a fat guy."

    Tom, that's because Lolich only had ONE foot on the scale... Seriously, some of these weights are obviously on the light side, or earlier in the player's career. For instance, I see Mo Vaughn is listed at 225 pounds - following the Red Sox, I doubt that he was under 250 the last few years he was on the RS.

  40. Where's the love for my man Sandy? 1959 WS, Game 5, a potential clincher...loses 1-0. 1963 WS, Game 1...beats Ford with a CG and 15 Ks. Game 4, a potential clincher...beats Ford again, 2-1, with another CG. 1965 WS, Game 5...CG shutout with 10 Ks. Game 7, on 2 days rest...CG shutout with 10 Ks. Career postseason (all WS games) ERA...0.95 for 57 IP. And doing all this with an arthritic pitching elbow that forced him to retire at age 30. He gets my vote.

  41. @BSK I was wondering the same thing about "win or go home" games, but I don't think there would be an easy way to find that list. It would be interesting to see.

    And to expand on my earlier point even though no one asked, here are Pedro's imaginary sudden death numbers.

    3G, 3-0 W-L, 20 IP, 22K, 0.9 WHIP.

    Of course if Game 5 in the 99 DS is added, then his inexplicable inning in game 7 of the 04 ALCS would have to be added too, but if I'm already twisting the numbers, I'll just go on pretending that inning never happened.

    Steve, yes, I'm the same guy.

  42. DoubleDiamond Says:

    @30 I could have sworn that Brooklyn played Cleveland the year of the Bill Wambsganss unassisted triple play, 90 years ago this month, 1920. And I was right. But it turns out that they were called the Brooklyn Robins that year, and the post @30 refers to the only the part of the team's history when they were the Brooklyn Dodgers. I knew that the Brooklyn team had been known as the Robins at some point in their history, but I thought that this was either an unofficial nickname and/or a pre-1900 nickname.

    The St. Louis Browns only played the St. Louis Cardinals in the postseason.

  43. Looking at the play-by-play for Bob Gibson's game deciding games, and color me unimpressed. The 1964 game was won when the offense spotted him a 6-0 lead off of Stottlemyer. Also, if you look at the way the game flowed, there's no way in hell a modern manager lets him pitch the 9th. He was obviously tiring, and the 2 jacks in the 9th prove my point. Also, in 1968, he got touched for 4 runs. Not exactly sterling. Only the 1967 game sticks out for me: 9 complete, 2 runs given up, and he hit a solo shot to help his cause.