Madison Bumgarner was phenomenal in the World Series, but it's not the best pitching performance in the history of the Fall Classic.
The 2014 World Series will be best remembered for the dominance of one man: Madison Bumgarner. The Giants' 25-year-old southpaw almost single-handedly pitched the Giants to their third championship in five years, earning the win in each of his two World Series starts, one of them a shutout, then coming back on two days' rest to close out Game 7 with five dominant scoreless innings that earned him a save. As you’ll see below, that performance was unprecedented, and it was especially remarkable given the way the use of pitchers has changed since the first World Series in 1903. But was it the best ever in the Fall Classic? Here’s my list of the all-time top five pitching performances in World Series history.
1. Christy Mathewson, Giants, 1905: 3-0, 0.00 ERA, 27 IP, 3 SHO
In just the second World Series ever (Giants manager John McGraw refused to let his team play in 1904, feeling that the four-year-old American League was inferior), Mathewson turned in a performance against the A's that has never been equaled, and never will be: Three starts, three shutouts, the second on two days' rest, the third on one day of rest. Mathewson allowed just 13 hits and one walk while striking out 18 and winning three of the Series' five games.
2. Lew Burdette, Braves, 1957: 3-0, 0.67 ERA, 27 IP, 2 SHO
In Game 2, his first of three starts in this series against the defending world champion Yankees, Burdette allowed one run in the second inning and another in the third. He then pitched six scoreless innings to finish that game and followed it up with shutouts in both Game 5 and Game 7. That ran his scoreless streak for the Series to 24 while pitching three complete games to give the city of Milwaukee what is still its only World Series title.
3. Stan Coveleski, Indians, 1920: 3-0, 0.67 ERA, 27 IP, 1 SHO
Like Burdette, Coveleski started three games, completed and won all three, allowed just two runs and pitched a shutout in Game 7 on two days' rest. The only reason he’s a spot below Burdette here is that he spread out those runs a bit more, allowing one in Game 1 and the other in Game 4, making his longest scoreless streak in the series a “mere” 14 innings. Still, he's the reason Cleveland won its first title, and he was later elected to the Hall of Fame.
4. Bob Gibson, Cardinals, 1967: 3-0, 1.00 ERA, 27 IP, 1 SHO
Speaking of Hall of Famers, Gibson may be the most famous postseason pitcher of all time, and his best showing came in 1967. He allowed just one run in his first 22 innings that year against Boston, which is one more inning than Bumgarner threw in total in this year’s Series. Gibson, who like the three men above him completed all three of his starts in this Series, allowed only a third-inning run in Game 1, then shut out the Red Sox in Game 4 and extended his scoreless streak to 19 innings in Game 7 before allowing a run in the fifth and another in the eighth. However, he had a 4-0 lead before giving up the first run and a 7-1 advantage before surrendering the second. He also hit a home run in the fifth inning, when the Cardinals were only up 2-0. Thanks to the two runs he allowed later in the game, that solo home run proved to be the Series-winning run.
Like Bumgarner and Burdette, Gibson won World Series MVP honors in the season listed here (the award wasn't invented until 1955). He also won it in 1964 after pitching 27 innings, including a 10-inning win in Game 5 then coming back on two days' rest to go the distance in his Game 7 win that ended the Yankees' dynasty. He almost certainly would have won the award again in 1968, when he set a Series record with 17 strikeouts in a Game 1 shutout of the Tigers and then pitched all nine innings again, yielding one run, in Game 4. He pitched a third complete game in Game 7 but lost 4-1 in part because of a misplayed ball in the outfield that broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning and ultimately led to three runs.
5. Madison Bumgarner, Giants, 2014: 2-0, 0.43 ERA, 21 IP, 1 SHO, SV
Each of the four men above started and completed three games in the World Series. Bumgarner started just two and completed just one, which is why he ranks below them. There was stiff competition for the fifth spot as well. Among pitchers with 20 or more innings pitched in a single World Series four -- Mathewson in ’05, Waite Hoyt in 1921 (0.00), Carl Hubbell in 1933 (0.00) and Sandy Koufax in 1965 (0.38) -- posted lower ERA’s than Bumgarner’s 0.43. So why is Bumgarner listed here? Hubbell, Bumgarner's predecessor as an ace Giants southpaw, allowed just three unearned runs in 20 innings, but only appeared in two games against the Senators. Hoyt gave up only two unearned runs in three complete games for the Yankees but took the loss in the decisive Game 8 (the last of four times that the Fall Classic was best-of-nine) when two walks and an error in the first inning led to the game's only run. Koufax had two complete game wins for the Dodgers, including a Game 7 shutout of the Twins on two days of rest, but he lasted just six innings in his first start and took the loss.
There are three other pitchers who have gone 3-0 with three complete games in the World Series, namely the Pirates' Babe Adams in 1909 (1.33 ERA), the Athletics’ Jack Coombs in 1910 (3.33 ERA) and the Tigers’ Mickey Lolich in 1968 (1.67 ERA). None of those men, however, were as dominant as Bumgarner was in this Series. He finished with 14 scoreless innings (matching Coveleski’s streak) with a shutout in Game 5 and five scoreless innings of relief on two days' rest to close out Game 7. (Bumgarner, incidentally, was originally credited by the official scorer with the win for his relief appearance, as well he should have been, but it was later changed to a save. Here’s hoping it is changed back, and soon.)
The only other pitcher to go 3-0 in a World Series was the Cardinals’ Harry Brecheen in 1946. Like Bumgarner, Brecheen, also a lefty, made two starts and one relief appearance, threw one shutout, finished Game 7 and allowed a total of one run. However, while Brecheen completed both of his starts against the Red Sox, his relief outing was a mere two-inning stint in which he vultured the win by allowing both of his inherited runners to score to tie the game in the eighth only to have his team rally for the Series winning run on Enos Slaughter’s mad dash from first base to home in the bottom of the eighth. In the ninth, Brecheen nearly surrendered the lead again, giving up singles to the first two men he faced and having the tying run on third base when he recorded the final out (as, it’s worth noting, did Bumgarner).
Bumgarner, meanwhile, became just the third pitcher ever in the Fall Classic to start twice and make a relief appearance of more than three innings. Even more remarkably, he is the first man to do so in more than a century. Not since the Tigers’ George Mullin in 1909 and none other than Cy Young in the very first World Series in 1903, had a pitcher managed that feat. Mullen and Young, however, both took a loss in one of their three starts (yes, three) and their relief appearances came in losing efforts as well.
Thus it’s fair to say then that even if it wasn't the best mound performance in World Series history no pitcher has ever done what Madison Bumgarner just did.