As Rays fans watched Rangers lefty Cliff Lee completely stymie their team during two games of the American League division series, they could at least take solace in the fact that they were watching one of the greatest postseason performers of all time. Lee, who beat the Rays twice and is expected to start Game 3 of the AL Championship Series against the Yankees on Monday, has started seven postseason games and has gone 6-0 with 1.44 ERA. But he still has a little ways to go before we can add him to today's list of our favorite postseason performers of all time. Some athletes have had great single-season postseason performances, but here are great players who were even better come the postseason over their entire careers.
No one has hit more postseason homers than the Yankees' Bernie Williams, who had 22 in 121 postseason games. Now think about this: Mantle, left, hit 18 home runs in 65 postseason games. Makes you wonder just how many homers Mantle might have hit if the postseason was set up in his day like it is today, with two rounds before the World Series. All of Mantle's numbers came in the World Series.
Overall, Mathewson was a .500 pitcher (5-5) in 11 World Series games spread over 1905, 1911, 1912 and 1913. But his ERA was a ridiculous 0.97. Plus, Mathewson makes our list because he had what we consider the greatest postseason pitching performance in history. In the 1905 World Series while pitching for the Giants, Mathewson won three games, all by shutout, in a span of only six days. That's 27 innings, no runs, 13 hits, 18 strikeouts and one walk … in six days!
Wayne Gretzky/Mario Lemieux
Just like Michael Jordan in basketball, Gretzky was far and away the greatest hockey player ever, and he was even better in the postseason. Gretzky is the NHL's all-time postseason leader in points (382), goals (122), assists (260) and hat tricks (10). Now go back and reread those numbers then realize those statistics came in 208 playoff games. When you mention Gretzky, you also have to add Lemieux, who racked up 76 goals and 96 assists in 107 playoff games.
There is a reason his Airness is considered the greatest player in NBA history. Not only is he the greatest player in regular seasons full of games against the dregs of the league, but he was even better when the pressure was the most intense against the league's best. Jordan is the NBA's all-time points-per-game leader in the playoffs with a 33.4 average, which was higher than his 30.1 points per game in the regular season. Remember the 63-point performance against the Celtics? Remember the "Flu Game'' when he scored 38 in the 1997 NBA Finals against the Jazz? The famous winning shots against the Cavaliers in 1989 or the NBA title-winner against the Jazz in 1998? And, of course, six NBA titles, making him the greatest clutch player in the NBA history.
The great Cardinals flame-thrower could not put up the gaudy postseason numbers many more current pitchers can because he mostly played in an era when there were no playoffs, just the World Series. Gibson pitched in three World Series (1964, 1967, 1968). He started nine games and completed eight of them. He went 7-2 in the World Series with two shutouts and a remarkable 1.89 ERA along with 92 strikeouts in 81 innings.
In discussions of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Bradshaw's name is often overlooked even though no QB won more Super Bowls. Few quarterbacks have ever performed better in the playoffs than Bradshaw, who was 14-5 as a postseason starter and a perfect 4-0 in the Super Bowl. Bradshaw did not put up eye-popping numbers, but he did save his best for the playoffs. Hard to believe, but Bradshaw had only seven 300-yard passing games in his career, but three of those came in the playoffs and two of those came in the Super Bowl. Talk about saving your best for the biggest moments. Joe Montana, certainly, needs to be mentioned, but we pay extra attention to Bradshaw because he is often overlooked in this discussion.
You know, Ruth's name is so much a part of baseball lore that, I think, sometimes he is taken for granted, and we need to be reminded just what an incredible player he really was.
Let's start with this: He went 3-0 with an 0.87 ERA as a pitcher for the Red Sox in the 1916 and 1918 World Series. As a hitter, Ruth played in 10 World Series, hitting 15 homers with 33 RBIs. And one of those homers, according to legend, was a called shot.
And get this: Ruth's OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in the World Series was 1.211. Know what Mark McGwire's OPS was the year he hit 70 homers? It was 1.222.
When you go through NHL history and name the greatest goalies, you think of Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Ken Dryden, Tony Esposito, Jacques Plante. How far do you get until you get to Billy Smith, who played for the Islanders from 1972-89? But if you had to pick one goalie in history to start a must-win game, Smith would be near the top of the list. During the regular season, he was good — a 305-233-105 record with a 3.17 goals-against average and an .882 save percentage. During the playoffs he was great — 88-36 with a 2.73 GAA and a .903 save percentage as he backstopped the Islanders dynasty to four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983.
His nickname — Mr. October — shows just how valuable he was in the playoffs. Between the A's, Yankees and Angels, Jackson appeared in 77 postseason games. He batted .278, which was 16 points higher than his career regular-season average. His playoff slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging percentage also were significantly higher in the playoffs than the regular season. He blasted 18 homers in the postseason, including three in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series that made him a postseason legend.
If Schilling ever makes the Hall of Fame, it will be on the strength of his postseason numbers. Schilling won only 216 games in 20 big-league seasons (17 as a starter), but his playoff numbers are stunning. In three postseasons with the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox, he went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA. In the World Series, Schilling was even better: 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA. And, of course, there is his courageous "Bloody Sock'' performance in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees.