Tonight in Oakland, Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray will square off in the last game of the Division Series round, as the A’s host a deciding game 5 against Detroit for the second year in a row. Instead of pointlessly rehashing Oakland’s four straight losses in LDS game 5′s from 2000-03 — no more germane to this contest than their three straight championships from 1972-74 — let’s take a very quick look at sudden-death starting pitchers.
These same pitchers met in game 2 on Saturday, with neither one permitting a run. Should they reprise that feat tonight, it would be just the second scoreless duel in sudden-death history, joining Jack Morris vs. John Smoltz in the 1991 World Series.
Gray will make the 19th sudden-death start at age 23 or younger. Those lads have more than held their own, with a combined 2.73 ERA, 3.01 RA/9 and 10-8 team record (compared to 3.64 ERA, 4.08 RA/9 and 80-82 team record for those age 24 and up). However, recent history is less kind: the team starting such a youngster has lost in five of the last six tries (ever since Saberhagen’s 1985 WS shutout), going 0-3 in the last two seasons, including Jarrod Parker against Verlander last year.
Team record by SP age in sudden death (Gray is 23, Verlander 30):
- Age 22 to 24 — 12-14
- Age 29 to 31 — 24-18
Verlander looks for his seventh postseason win in his 14th outing. He aims to be the fourth pitcher ever to start and win two postseason sudden-death games (the second to do so in different seasons):
- Bob Gibson won game 7 of the 1964 and ’67 World Series, each a complete game (the first of those with just two days’ rest).
- Chris Carpenter in 2011 won NLDS game 5 with a 3-hit shutout, and won game 7 of the World Series with six innings on 2 runs, with just three days’ rest.
- Matt Cain in 2012 won NLDS game 5 and NLCS game 7, going 5.2 innings in each.
(Honorable mention to Pedro Martinez, who started and won the 2003 ALDS game 5 (7 IP, 3 R), and earned the win in 1999 ALDS game 5 with a memorable relief outing of six no-hit innings.)
There have been 90 sudden-death postseason games to date, including Wednesday’s Cards-Bucs affair, with starting pitchers going 57-66. The only starter to lose two such games was Mark Mulder, who dropped the 2001-02 ALDS finales. In the 2002 game, Mulder allowed just 2 runs in 7 IP, while each team’s closer coughed up 3 runs in the 9th. Tough luck, Mark! His effort earned the 2nd-best WPA in a sudden-death SP loss, behind Roy Halladay in this game.
Roger Clemens leads the field with five sudden-death starts, two more than Gibson, Bret Saberhagen, John Smoltz and Jaret Wright. (Um…) Clemens went 1-1 with a 4.12 ERA in those five games. (Not that I would ever encourage you to judge an outstanding pitcher on the basis of five games. Well, maybe just this once.)
Top sudden-death performances:
WPA leaders are the three who won 1-0 shutouts:
- 0.845, Jack Morris, 1991 WS (the only one to go 10 full innings in sudden death)
- 0.823, Ralph Terry, 1962 WS
- 0.808, Carpenter, 2011 NLDS
- 11, shared by Verlander (above) and Cliff Lee (2010 ALDS)
Postscript: Three relievers have earned two sudden-death wins: Clay Carroll (1972 NLCS, 1975 WS), Mike Stanton (2000-01 ALDS), and Randy Johnson (1995 ALDS and 2001 WS). Johnson never started a sudden-death game.
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