Madison Bumgarner's shutout of the Royals in Sunday night's Game 5 of the World Series didn't just bring the Giants to the brink of a third title for both him and his team since 2010. The complete-game outing also put him on several exclusive lists of elite postseason pitching performances, as Bumgarner continues to make history in these playoffs.
To begin with, he's just the third pitcher ever to make six starts in a single postseason, joining Chris Carpenter in 2011 and Curt Schilling in 2001. That he completed the game gave him 47 2/3 total innings this postseason, the second most ever behind Schilling's 48 1/3 in '01. The shutout, meanwhile, made him one of just nine pitchers to throw two shutouts in a single postseason and the first since Josh Beckett in 2003.
Of course, five of those pitchers threw two shutouts back when the postseason consisted solely of the World Series, and that's where we run into the first and most obvious problem in attempting to put Bumgarner's performance this postseason into historical context. No list of the greatest pitching performances in playoff history would be complete without Christy Mathewson's three shutouts in the 1905 World Series, but Mathewson threw 20 1/3 fewer innings in that postseason than Bumgarner has in this one.
Looking at that list of nine pitchers with two shutouts in a single postseason, the pitcher who threw the fewest innings was Whitey Ford, whose October was limited to two appearances against the Pirates in the 1960 World Series. There are those who will argue that two shutouts in the World Series is better than Bumgarner has done, or that Ford was essentially perfect that postseason, throwing a shutout every chance he had.
I don't want to punish Ford and others like him for opportunities they never got. Still, I don't have much trouble ranking Bumgarner's performance ahead of Ford's. After all, Bumgarner's first shutout came in the single-elimination Wild-Card Game, and he pitched well in four other starts, as well. Above Ford, we find Sandy Koufax, who made three starts against the Twins in the 1965 World Series. Koufax threw 24 innings in that Series, just more than half of Bumgarner's total across three rounds and the Wild-Card Game this year.
That 24-inning mark seems like a good cutoff for the pre-divisional era (1903-1968). For each additional round of the playoffs, I'll then add six innings (the quality start minimum), giving us a 30-inning cutoff for 1969 to 1993, and 36 innings for 1981 and 1995 to the present. Using those tiers gives us this list of all-time postseason ERA leaders, which I've extended just long enough to include Bumgarner.
1. Christy Mathewson, Giants, 1905: 0.00 ERA, 27 IP
In the greatest World Series performance ever, Mathewson shut out the Athletics in Games 1, 3, and 5, with just two days off between the first two and one day of rest before he nailed down the championship for the Giants in Game 5.
2. Waite Hoyt, Yankees, 1921: 0.00 ERA, 27 IP
Hoyt's performance against the Giants isn't as celebrated as Mathewson's for two very obvious reasons. The first is that Hoyt, after tossing a two-hit shutout in Game 2, allowed an unearned run in both Game 5 and Game 8 of what was briefly a best-of-nine Series. The second is that the unearned run he allowed in his final start, which scored on a first-inning error by shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh after a pair of walks, proved to be the winning run of the Series. Giants lefty Art Nehf, who would have ranked 16th on this list, tossed a shutout for the win.
The Yankees, it should be noted, got nothing more than a pinch-hit groundout from Babe Ruth in that game due to a badly infected wound on Ruth's elbow that kept him out of Games 6 and 7, both Giants wins.
3. Sandy Koufax, Dodgers, 1965:0.38 ERA, 24 IP
Koufax deferred the first start of the 1965 World Series to Don Drysdale because the game fell on Yom Kippur, a decision that endeared him to the Jewish community as much if not more than his subsequent performance in the series. The Dodgers lost the first two games to the Twins: Drysdale was lit up and Koufax lasted just six innings in Game 2, but the Dodgers evened the Series behind Claude Osteen and Drysdale after it returned to Los Angeles. Koufax finished the job with shutouts in Games 5 and 7, striking out ten in both games, the second on just two days' rest.
4t. Lew Burdette, Braves, 1957: 0.67 ERA, 27 IP
Burdette completed and won all three of his starts in this series, dominating the Mantle-era Yankees by allowing just two runs in Game 2, shutting them out in Game 5, then leapfrogging Warren Spahn in the rotation to come back on two days' rest and shut out the Yankees again in Game 7. In doing so, he nailed down what remains the only World Series championship in Milwaukee history.
4t. Stan Coveleski, Indians, 1920: 0.67 ERA, 27 IP
If forced to break the tie between Burdette and Coveleski, I'd do it in favor of Burdette. Both allowed just two runs in 27 innings, completing and winning all three of their starts, but Coveleski threw just one shutout, allowing one run in both Game 1 and Game 4. Also, the 1920 World Series was a best-of-nine, meaning Coveleski's three wins were just 60 percent of what was needed for the championship, compared to 75 percent for Burdette in '57. Nonetheless, like Burdette in '57 and Koufax in '65, Coveleski's shutout on two days' rest in Game 7 secured the championship, one of just two in Cleveland's 114 seasons in the American League.
6. George Earnshaw, Athletics, 1930: 0.72 ERA, 25 IP
This list makes no effort to correct for run-scoring levels, but it's worth noting here that in 1930, the average major league team scored 5.55 runs per game, and Earnshaw's 4.44 ERA during the regular season was actually better than league average. Given that, his performance in this Series deserves to be better remembered.
Earnshaw beat the Cardinals with a complete game in Game 2, threw seven scoreless innings in Game 5, then clinched the title with another complete game in Game 6. Even more remarkable, his Game 6 start came on just one day of rest, the travel day from St. Louis to Philadelphia, and he didn't allow a run in that game until the ninth inning, by which point he had thrown 22 consecutive scoreless innings in the Series.
7. John Smoltz, Braves, 1996: 0.95 ERA, 38 IP
Smoltz won his first four starts in the 1996 postseason, allowing one run in a complete-game victory over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the Division Series and just two runs across 15 innings in two starts against the Cardinals in the NLCS, then holding the Yankees to one run over six innings in the lopsided first game of the World Series. He was far better in his second World Series start that year, allowing just one unearned run over eight innings while striking out ten in Game 5.
However, in one of the most thrilling pitching duels in World Series history, Andy Pettitte held the Braves scoreless for 8 1/3 innings, after which Yankees closer John Wetteland collected the final two outs to make that unearned run stand up. That gave the Yankees a 3-2 edge in the Series, which they won in Game 6.
8t. Bob Gibson, Cardinals, 1967: 1.00 ERA, 27 IP
Foreshadowing his legendary 1968 season, Gibson dominated the Red Sox in the 1967 World Series, completing and winning Games 1, 4, and 7. He held Boston to one run in Game 1 and two runs in Game 7, striking out ten in both of those games, then shut them out in Game 5. He then came back in 1968 and allowed one run in 18 innings, striking out 27, in his first two starts again the Tigers, making his loss in Game 7 of that series all the more shocking.
Across three World Series, the only postseason exposure of Gibson's career, he competed eight of his nine starts, one of them lasting ten innings, winning seven of those eight complete games. The one game he failed to complete was his first, in 1964. He lasted just eight innings in that one.
8t. Hippo Vaughn, Cubs, 1918: 1.00 ERA, 27 IP
Played in the shadow of World War I, the 1918 World Series took place in early September and contained just one change in venue due to travel restrictions. The Cubs' best pitcher, Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander, was absent due to military duty, and allegations lingered that Chicago threw the World Series for many of the same financial reasons that the cross-town White Sox did the following year.
That rap won't stick to Hippo Vaughn, however. Vaughn allowed just three runs total in three complete games, but lost 1-0 to the Red Sox's lefthanded ace, Babe Ruth, in Game 1, then fell 2-0 to Carl Mays in Game 3 while pitching on one day of rest. Vaughn took matters into his own hands by shutting out Boston for a win in Game 5 on two days' rest, only to watch his team lose the Series to Mays the next day.
10. Chief Bender, Athletics, 1911: 1.04 ERA, 26 IP
Out-pitched by Mathewson, Bender took a complete game loss in Game 1 by a score of 2-1, but two runs proved enough to beat Matty in Game 4. Two days later, Bender turned in his third complete game of the series, allowing just two unearned runs as the A's exploded for 13 to avenge their loss in the 1905 Series.
11. Orel Hershiser, Dodgers, 1988: 1.05 ERA, 42 2/3 IP
The Most Valuable Player of the NLCS and the World Series in 1988, Hershiser didn't just dominate as a starter, but also got the last out of the Dodgers' 12-inning win in Game 4 of the NLCS after having pitched seven innings the day before in a losing effort. On top of that, he came back three days later to shut out the Mets in Game 7 and send L.A. to the World Series.
In the Fall Classic, Hershiser tossed another shutout on three days' rest in Game 2, then came back on three days' rest again in Game 5 to turn in his third straight complete game to nail down the championship. Oh, and in Game 2, he went 3-for-3 at the plate with two doubles.
12. Curt Schilling, Diamondbacks, 2001: 1.12 ERA, 48 1/3 IP
Schilling's first three starts in the 2001 postseason were complete games in which he allowed a combined total of two runs, striking out 30 against just four walks. He shut out the Cardinals in Game 1 of the Division Series before beating them again in the decisive Game 5. He then struck out 12 Braves in Game 3 of the NLCS as Arizona cruised to a 4-1 series win. That gave him six days of rest before the World Series.
In Game 1, Schilling held the Yankees to one run on three hits and a walk over seven innings and picked up the win. Pitching on three days' rest in Game 4, he did exactly the same, only to see the Yankees stage the first of their two improbable comebacks. In Game 7, matched up against Roger Clemens, he turned in nearly the exact same outing once more, but stayed in for the eighth inning and gave up a leadoff home run to Alfonso Soriano that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead. Thus, when Schilling left the mound for the last time after one of the greatest postseason pitching performances of all time, he thought he had cost his team the World Series. Little did he know that his team was about to bail him out.
13. Madison Bumgarner, Giants, 2014: 1.13 ERA, 47 2/3 IP
Bumgarner's line this postseason is remarkably similar to Schilling's in 2011. As stated before, they are two of three pitchers in major league history to have made six starts in a single postseason and occupy the top two spots on the list of most innings pitched in a postseason. Both allowed six earned runs (Bumgarner added an unearned one in the Division Series due to his own throwing errors). Both allowed three home runs. Both issued six walks. Schilling allowed 25 hits, Bumgarner 26. Bumgarner had one more shutout, but Schilling had one more complete game.
In both cases, their teams went 5-1 in their starts, though Schilling went 4-0 while Bumgarner is 4-1. Yet, despite the excellence and heavy workloads of both pitchers, both had to turn to their teammates to complete the job of wrapping up the championship, a job which remains incomplete for Bumgarner's Giants.