The Greatest Pitching Match-ups (in the World Series)

2019 has been a pitcher’s match-up for the history books. Some of the best pitchers of their generation are pitted against each other. But where in the history books does the Astro’s staff of Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke against the Nationals of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasberg really belong?

H. ere is a list of the greatest pitching match-ups in World Series history. For clarification, the number after the pitcher’s name is the WINS ABOVE REPLACEMENT number the pitcher achieved in the given year (as shown on the BASEBALL REFERENCE web sight).

1905: New York Giants vs. Philadelphia A’s  

1905 Game 1: Christy Mathewson (8.9) vs Eddie Plank (6.7).

                        The two would combine for 699 wins. Mathewson was the best pitcher in baseball at the time, going 31-9 with a league leading 1.26 ERA in 1905. Plank wasn’t nearly as effective, but did go 24-12 with an ERA just over 2. Both pitchers went nine innings, but Mathewson was on top of his game, throwing a 4-hit shutout in the Giant’s 3-0 win. 

1905 Game 2: Chief Bender (1.0) vs Joe McGinnity (2.2).

                         Bender hurled a 4-hit shut-out. “Iron Man” McGinnity also went the distance, but was out pitched by the big Indian.

1905 Game 4: Eddie Plank (6.7) vs Joe McGinnity (2.2).

                        All five games of the Series would result in shut-outs. Planke allowed only four hits, but also the only run in his 1-0 loss to the 34 year old McGinnity. 4 of the 5 games of the 1905 World Series pitted future members of the Hall of Fame against each other.  

1905 Game 5: Chief Bender (1.0) vs Christy Mathewson (8.9).

                        Not the match-up of Game 1, but it was still between the Great Matty and another future member of the Hall of Fame. Mathewson pitched a 6-hit shut-out, his third shut-out of the Series, and the Giants closed out the Athletics in a 2-0 win. Mathewson’s line in the 1905 World Series:

27 IP 0 Runs 14 Hits 18 SO 1 BB 0.00 ERA!

Let’s see if anybody match that.

1911: New York Giants vs. the Philadelphia A’s

1911 Game 1: Chief Bender (5.9) vs Christy Mathewson (7.9)

                        By 1911 Mathewson was past his peak. He “only” won 27 games during the regular season, posting a 1.99 ERA. Bender went 17-5 with a 2.16 ERA. It was a tense pitching duel won by Bender and the A’s, 2-1.

1911 Game 2: Rube Marquard (6.4) vs Eddie Plank (6.3).

                       Reluctant to put this one in. Marquard is probably the worst pitcher in the Hall of Fame, but he’s in. He pitched well, giving up only four hits in his eight innings, but one was a 2-run home run to A’s third baseman Frank Baker (one of two home runs hit by Baker in the Series to earn his nickname, “Home Run” Baker). Baker’s blast was enough for Plank to beat Marquard, 3-1.

1911 Game 4: Christy Mathewson (7.9) vs (5.9) Chief Bender. 

                        A rematch of Game 1. The Giants scored twice in the 1st inning off Bender, staking Matty to an early lead. He couldn’t hold it, giving up 4 runs in his eight innings. Bender went the distance for his second of three wins in the Athletics 4-2 win. The A’s won the Series in six games.

1913: New York Giants vs Philadelphia A’s

1913 Game 2: Christy Mathewson (7.1) vs Eddie Plank (3.2).

                        The two 300 game winners would meet twice in 1913. Mathewson was 33 years old and Plank was 38. They put on quite a show. The game was scoreless after nine innings, before the Giants rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth, the first being driven in by Matty himself. The final score, 3-0 Giants in 10 innings. 

1913 Game 5. Eddie Plank (3.2) vs Christy Mathewson (7.1).

                        Plank threw a 2-hitter in the 5th and final game of the Series. The Athletics got to Mathewson early, scoring all three of their runs in the first three innings, in their 3-1 Series clinching win. 

1918: Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago Cubs 

1918 Game 1: Babe Ruth (7.0) vs Hippo Vaughn (7.6).

                        Yes, Babe Ruth was a great pitcher. He had won 23 and 24 games in 1916 and 1917. In 1918 he was transitioning to the outfield and only started 20 games for the Red Sox. He still went 13-7 with a 2.22 ERA. Vaughn was the best pitcher in the National League that year, winning the pitching triple crown for the Cubs. The expectations were met as Ruth outdueled Vaughn in a 1-0 masterpiece. The Red Sox would win the Series in six games.

1920: Cleveland Indians vs Brooklyn Dodgers

1920 Game 7: Burleigh Grimes (6.8) vs Stan Coveleski (8.6).

                        Not much remembered today, but this was a match-up of two of the best spit-ball pitchers of all time. They would win 485 games between them and both are enshrined in Cooperstown. The World Series was best of nine at this time. Coveleski hurled a 5-hit shut-out to close out Grimes and the Dodgers, 3-0.

1926: St. Louis Cardinals vs New York Yankees

1926 Game 7: Jesse Haines (2.6)  vs Waite Hoyt (2.3).

                        One of the most famous games in baseball history was a battle between two Hall of Famers. Haines left in the 7th with the bases loaded and a 3-2 lead. He was relieved by “The Great Alex”, Grover Cleveland Alexander, who famously struck out Tony Lazzeri and closed out the Series clinching 3-2 victory. Hoyt gave up all three Cardinal runs in his six innings, then was relieved by another Hall of Famer, Herb Pennock. Babe Ruth was thrown out attempting to steal second to end the game and the Series. (Read all about this World Series here.)

1930: St. Louis Cardinals vs Philadelphia A’s

1930 Game 1: Burleigh Grimes (4.5) vs Lefty Grove (10.4).

                        Grimes was still allowed to throw his spitball, ten years after it was banned. Grove won the American League pitching triple crown. This was Grove at his peak, while the 36 year old Grimes was having his last good year. Both went the distance, but Grove’s A’s prevailed, 5-2. 

1930 Game 4: Lefty Grove (10.4) vs Jesse Haines (1.9).

                       Haines is a marginal Hall of Famer, but was a quality pitcher for more than a decade. Grove is in the conversation as the greatest pitcher of all time. Haines beat him, 3-1, for the Cardinals second, and last, win in the Series.

1931: St. Louis Cardinals vs Philadelphia A’s

1931 Game 3: Burleigh Grimes (2.8) vs Lefty Grove (10.4).

                        Grove would win the American League Most Valuable Player Award for the season. Grimes was just about through. It doesn’t seem logical, but Grimes went all the way and beat Grove, 5-2. Grimes would also win Game 7 in the Cardinals 4 games to 3 stunner  over the Mighty Philadelphia Athletics.

1936: New York Yankees vs New York Giants

1936 Game 1: Red Ruffing (3.8) vs Carl Hubbell (9.6).

                        Ruffing was a solid staff anchor, but was never the best pitcher in baseball. Hubbel was the best pitcher in baseball in 1936, going 26-6 with a league leading 2.31 ERA and his second National League MVP Award. Both are now enshrined in Cooperstown, but “The Meal Ticket”, Hubbell, is an all time great and Ruffing isn’t. Both threw a complete game, and the Giants led only 2-1 entering the 8th inning. Ruffing was touched for four in the 8th, as the Giants won, 6-1. This ended a 12 game winning streak for the Yankees in World Series play. The Yankees did win the World Series 4 games to 2. 

1937: New York Giants vs New York Yankees

1937 Game 1: Carl Hubbell (3.8) vs Lefty Gomez (9.2).

                        Hubbell was not as dominant in 1937 as he was in 1936. He still won 22 games, one more than Gomez won for the Yankees. Hubbell carried a 1-0 lead into the 6th, when the Yankees exploded for seven runs, knocking “The Meal Ticket” out of the game. Gomez went the distance in the Yankees 8-1 pasting of Hubbell and the Giants. The Yankees went on to beat their cross town rivals for the second year in a row in the Series.

1948: Cleveland Indians vs Boston Braves

1948 Game 1: Bob Feller (2.0) vs Johnny Sain (8.5). 

                       Sain was the ace of the Braves’ famous “Spahn and Sain and pray for Rain.” rotation. He was second in the MVP vote that year. One of the greatest pitching duels in World Series history. Feller allowed only two hits, but gave up a controversial run in the 8th inning when second base umpire, Bill Stewart called Braves’ catcher Phil Masi safe on a pick-off attempt at second base with two outs. According to most observers of the game, Masi was out. Tommy Holmes followed with a bloop single to left, driving in the game’s only run. This was as close as Feller came to ever winning a World Series’ game. 

1948 Game 2: Bob Lemon (4.7) vs Warren Spahn (3.3).

                       Spahn was knocked out in the 5th inning of of this battle between future Hall of Famers. Lemon scattered eight hits while evening a Series the Indians would win in six games, their last championship. 

1957: Milwaukee Braves vs New York Yankees 

1957 Game 1: Warren Spahn (4.8) vs Whitey Ford (1.9).

                        Spahn was coming off his eighth of thirteen 20 win seasons. Whitey Ford was the ace of the Yankee staff. Spahn was the better pitcher, but this day belonged to Ford, throwing a 5-hitter at the Braves in the Yankees 3-1 win. The Braves would win the Series in seven games behind the their # 2 Starter’s, Lew Burdette, three wins.

1958: New York Yankees vs Milwaukee Braves

1958 Game 1: Whitey Ford (4.3) vs Warren Spahn (4.1). 

                        Same two teams met in 1958. Ford left the game in the 8th inning leading 3-2. The Braves tied score in 8th and won with a run in the 10th. Spahn went all the way for the win, Ford had no decision.

1958 Game 4: Warren Spahn (4.1) vs Whitey Ford (4.3).

                        Spahn was at the top of his game, hurling a 2-hit shutout. Ford left after seven innings trailing 2-0. The win put the Braves up 3 games to 1 in the Series.

1958 Game 6: Whitey Ford (4.3) vs Warren Spahn (4.1).

                       Both managers asked their star pitchers to come back on two days rest. Ford couldn’t get through the 2nd inning, but the Yankees managed to keep the score tied at two after nine. Braves manager Fred Haney asked Spahn to pitch the 10th inning, despite the fact he had pitched nine innings three days earlier. The “Bombers” scored two off Spahn in the 10th and held on for a 4-3 victory. The Yankees would win Game 7 the next day. 

1963: Los Angeles Dodgers vs New York Yankees

1963 Game 1: Sandy Koufax (10.7) vs Whitey Ford (4.3).

                        Koufax was sensational, striking out a then record 15 Yankees, in a 5-2 Dodger win. Ford lasted only five innings.

1963 Game 4: Whitey Ford (4.3) vs Sandy Koufax (10.7). 

                       This time Ford was sensational, giving up only two hits. Unfortunately one was a long home run to Frank Howard. Then, in the 7th inning, first baseman Joe Pepitone committed a 3-base error, which led to the winning run in Koufax’ 2-1 win, and a Dodger sweep of the World Series.

1966: Baltimore Orioles vs Los Angeles Dodgers

1966 Game 2: Jim Palmer (2.2) vs Sandy Koufax (10.3).

                        This was Palmer’s rookie season and Koufax’ final game. Sandy was the victim of Willie Davis’ three errors in the 5th, which led to three unearned runs. The Dodgers would commit six errors in all while Palmer was pitching a 4-hit shut-out for the Orioles. The Dodgers would not score another run for the rest of the Series in Baltimore’s four game sweep. 

1968: Detroit Tigers vs St. Louis Cardinals

1968 Game 1: Denny McLain (7.4) vs Bob Gibson (11.2).

                       McLain won 31 games that year, the last pitcher to win 30 in one season. Gibson had a season for the ages, posting a 1.12 ERA. Both pitchers won their League’s Cy Young Award and MVP. The most anticipated World Series match-up since World War II. The Cardinals got to McLain for three in the 4th inning, while Gibson was throwing a complete game, 5-hit shut-out. Final score, 4-0.

1968 Game 4. Bob Gibson (11.2) vs Denny McLain (7.4).

                        In the rematch four days later, McLain was knocked out in the 3rd inning, Gibson again allowed only five hits in a St. Louis 10-1 romp. The game put the Cardinals up 3 games to 1, but the Tigers came back to win three in a row with McLain winning Game 6 on a 5-hitter of his own on three days rest, then Detroit’s Mickey Lolich bested Gibson in Game 7, 4-1.

1973: Oakland A’s vs New York Mets

1973 Game 3: Catfish Hunter (1.8) vs Tom Seaver (10.6).

                        The Mets scored two off the “Catfish” in the 1st inning, and he left after six innings still trailing 2-1. The A’s tied the game off Seaver in the 8th, and then beat the Met’s bullpen with a run in the 11th, 3-2. Neither Hall of Famer was involved in the decision. 

1973 Game 6: Tom Seaver (10.6) vs Catfish Hunter (1.8).

                        Seaver was the National League Cy Young award winner in 1973, while Hunter had finished third in the balloting in the American League. The Mets were confident that “Tom Terrific” could close out the Series, but Hunter bettered him, going 7 ⅓  innings in the Athletics’ 3-1 win. The A’s won game seven the next day. 

1986: Boston Red Sox vs New York Mets

1986 Game 2: Roger Clemens (8.8) vs Dwight Gooden (4.4).

                        Clemens couldn’t get out of the 5th inning, and Gooden was hammered for six runs in his five innings of work. The Red Sox rolled to a 9-3 victory and a two games to nothing lead in the Series. The Mets rallied to win in seven.

1991: Minnesota Twins vs Atlanta Braves

1991 Game 4: Jack Morris (4.3) vs John Smoltz (5.4).

                       Both future Hall of Famers were good, but neither was involved in the decision when Atlanta won 3-2 with a run in the bottom of the 9th.

1991 Game 7: John Smoltz (5.4) vs Jack Morris (4.3).

                        The most famous World Series pitching duel of them all. Smoltz threw 7 ⅓  scoreless innings, but he couldn’t match Morris, who went all the way in the Twins’ thrilling 1-0 10 innings Series clinching win.

1992: Toronto Blue Jays vs Atlanta Braves

1992 Game 1: Jack Morris (2.8) vs Tom Glavine (3.7).

                        Glavine was a year removed from his breakout, Cy Young season in 1991, but was dominant in his 4-hit complete game. Morris gave up three runs in the 6th inning in his 3-1 loss.

1992 Game 5: John Smoltz (3.5) vs Jack Morris (2.8)

                        With the Braves facing elimination, Smoltz and Morris met again. This time Atlanta had their way with Morris, exploding for five in the 5th in their 7-2 triumph. Smoltz was good, not great in his six innings of work. Back in Atlanta for Game 6, the Blue Jays closed out the Braves for their first of two straight World Championships.

1996: Atlanta Braves vs New York Yankees

1996 Game 1: John Smoltz (7.4) vs Andy Pettitte (5.6).

                        Pettitte couldn’t get out of the 3rd inning in his World Series debut, as the heavily favored Braves crushed the Yanks, 12-1. Smoltz gave up two hits and walked five in his six innings of work.

1996 Game 5: Andy Pettitte (5.6) vs John Smoltz (7.4).

                        In the rematch four days later, Smoltz was excellent, allowing only seven baserunners in his eight innings of work, and no earned runs. Pettitte bested him though with some 9th inning help from John Wetteland, 1-0. This was the Yankees third straight win in a Series they would win the next day in New York to complete the upset.

1999: Atlanta Braves vs New York Yankees

1999 Game 3. Tom Glavine (2.8) vs Andy Pettitte (2.4).

                        The Braves knocked Pettitte out of the game in the 4th inning, staking Glavine to a 5-1 lead. He couldn’t hold it, giving up five runs in his 7+ innings of work. The Yankees won with a run in the bottom of the 9th to take a 3 to 0 lead in the Series.

1999 Game 4. John Smoltz (4.4) vs Roger Clemens (2.8).

                       Smoltz struck out 11 in his seven innings of work, but couldn’t match Clemens who allowed only four hits before being removed in the 8th inning. New York completed the sweep with a 4-1 win.

2001: New York Yankees vs Arizona Diamondbacks

2001 Game 1. Mike Mussina (7.1) vs Curt Schilling (8.8).

                        No contest. Mussina surrendered five runs in his three innings of work, while Schilling was brilliant, allowing only three base runners in his seven innings. Final score, 9-1.

2001 Game 2. Andy Pettitte (3.5) vs Randy Johnson (10.1).

                       Johnson, the best pitcher in baseball at the time, was sensational, giving up three hits and striking out 11. Pettitte gave up all four runs in his seven innings of work. D-Backs, 4-0.

2001 Game 6. Andy Pettitte (3.5) vs Randy Johnson (10.1).

                        Six days later the two met again. This time Arizona was facing elimination, the Yankees having won three straight low scoring one run affairs in New York. The D-Back offense erupted against Pettitte, knocking him out in their 8-run 4th. Johnson was not as good as in Game 2, giving up two runs in his seven innings of work in a 15-2 pasting of the Yanks. 

2001 Game 7: Roger Clemens (5.7) vs Curt Schilling (8.8).

                        What a Series for Pitching Star Power. One of the greatest games in World Series history. Clemens went 6+ innings, striking out 10, leaving with the scored tied 1-1. Schilling was just as good, but gave up a tie breaking home run to Alfonso Soriano in the 8th. Johnson came back, on no rest, to close out the 8th and pitch a scoreless 9th. Baseball’s greatest closer, Mariano Rivera, pitched the 8th and 9th for the Yankees. The Diamondbacks rallied for two in the 9th off Rivera to win, 3-2.

2009: Philadelphia Phillies vs New York Yankees

2009: Game 6. Pedro Martinez (0.7) vs Andy Pettitte (3.4).

                        Martinez was pushing 39, in his last Major League season. He did go 5-1 in nine starts for the Phillies that year. Pettitte, also, was nearing the end of his career. 2010 would be his last. Pedro only lasted four innings, giving up four runs. Pettitte made it to the 6th and gained the win in the Yankees 7-3 Series clinching victory.

2018: Los Angeles Dodgers vs Boston Red Sox

2018 Game 1: Clayton Kershaw (3.3) vs Chris Sale (6.8).

                        Neither pitcher made it through the fifth. Kershaw left with the game tied 3-3, but the bullpen failed him, giving up five runs after Clayton’s departure. The Red Sox bullpen was better, closing out Boston’s 8-4 win. 

2018 Game 5: David Price (4.4) vs Clayton Kershaw (3.3).

                        The best pitcher of his generation, Kershaw’s problems in the post season are well documented. Red Sox scored two in the first and were never headed. Kershaw surrendered four runs in his seven innings and was no match for Price, who also had his own post season demons, who went seven in the Red Sox 5-1 Series ending clincher.

We have listed 45 classic confrontations between quality pitchers in the Fall Classic. We could have found more. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Up until 1968 the two teams with the best record in each league met in the World Series. Of course they’re going to have the best pitchers. Since 1969, and especially since the invention of Wild Card Teams in 1995, the two best teams don’t meet in the Series very often. This is the main reason these classic pitching match-ups do not occur as often as pre 1995. There were still five such confrontations in the 2000s and two in the 2010s. Let’s analyze the pitching match-ups for the 2019 Series, for comparisons to the duels of the past.

2019: Washington Nationals vs. Houston Astros

2019 Game1: Max Scherzer (5.8) vs Gerrit Cole (6.9).

                       Scherzer is a 3-time Cy Young Award winner. One of the two best pitchers of the last decade (Clayton Kershaw). Not having one of his best seasons, but still one of the five best in baseball. Doesn’t have Hall of Fame numbers yet, but the assumption is that he probably will before his career ends. Cole is 29 years old, having his finest season. He only has 94 career wins, so would have to have an unusual run of success in his 30s to be a Hall of Fame candidate.

2019 Game 2: Stephen Strasberg (6.3) vs Justin Verlander (7.8).

                        Verlander is the only one of the six who is definitely heading to Cooperstown. He’s still adding to his resume, just completing his third best season. One of the two favorites to win the American League Cy Young Award (Along with his teammate Gerrit Cole). By traditional criteria Strasberg would be the favorite to win the Cy Young in the National League. With the recent reliance on SABREMETRICS he probably won’t. He’s 31 years old and has only 112 career wins. His past has been limited by arm problems, but he did lead the league in innings pitched in 2019. If he can stay healthy he’s a premier hurler. Will have to have about seven more years similar to this one to be a viable Hall of Fame candidate.  

2019 Game 3. Zack Greinke (5.5) vs Anibal Sanchez (3.7).

                        If Greinke’s career ended today he would already be a marginal candidate for Cooperstown. Two more seasons like the last one and he’s probably a lock. Still effective at age 36. Sanchez is 35 and has no chance at the Hall. He’s a career .500 pitcher with 108 victories. He’s nearing the end of a fine career. 

The best match-up of the Series, according to Wins Above Replacement was Game 2 and Game 6, between Strasberg and Verlander. Their combined total was 14.1. This number has been exceeded by 10 other World Series match-ups.

1968 Game 1 (18.6) Denny McLain (7.4) vs Bob Gibson (11.2)

1968 Game 4 (18.6) Bob Gibson (11.2) vs Denny McLain (7.4)

2001 Game 1 (15.9) Mike Mussina (7.1) vs Curt Schilling (8.8)

1905 Game 1 (15.6) Christy Mathewson (8.9) vs Eddie Plank (6.7)

1920 Game 7 (15.4) Burleigh Grimes (6.8) vs Stan Coveleski (8.6)

1963 Game 1 (15) Sandy Koufax (10.7) vs Whitey Ford (4.3)

1963 Game 4 (15) Whitey Ford (4.3) vs Sandy Koufax (10.7)

1930 Game 1 (14.9) Burleigh Grimes (4.5) vs Lefty Grove (10.4)

1918 Game 1 (14.6) Babe Ruth (7.0) vs Hippo Vaughn (7.6)

2001 Game 7 (14.5) Roger Clemens (5.7) vs Curt Schilling (8.8)

The three surprising ones on the list are Game 1 in 1918, Game 7 in 1920 and Game 1 in 2001. We give Ruth credit for his contributions as a hitter in 1918, that accounts for 4.6 of his 7.0 WAR value. Not sure if we should have listed this one, but the Babe did bat in this game. We must point out that Ruth was a great pitcher. In 1917 he amassed an 8.6 WAR when he was primarily a pitcher (2.1 WAR as hitter, 6.5 for his pitching). 

Gibson/McLain in 1968 was expected, as was Mathewson/Plank in 1905, but numbers two and four on the list are Mussina/Schilling and Coveleski/Grimes. Just didn’t expect that. We’ve been sceptical of Mussina’s election to Cooperstown, and Schilling is still on the outside looking in.

The 1920 contest is a real shocker. This rates as the 5th best match-up of all time. 

Both starting pitchers for Game 7 are in the Hall of Fame, but they don’t have the stature of the other’s we’re evaluating. Maybe they should.

It’s been 18 years since one exceeded the 14.1 number. That’s very impressive. The 12.7 WAR between the two Game 1 and 5 starters also hasn’t been surpassed since 2001. Let’s not get too excited. Four games in the 2001 World Series were higher than this year’s Game 1 and 5, along with 17 others we’ve documented. 

Another thing, look at the names involved in those ten games; Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, Lefty Grove, Christy Mathewson. These are some of the greatest pitchers of all time, and most of them were in their prime years, but 8 of the 10 were before the expanded playoffs, and 13 of the 17 that beat the Schertzer/Cole confrontation were also before 1969. It’s the expanded playoff format, more than anything else, that limits the frequency of these happenings. 

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