Tag: Sandy Koufax

Kershaw vs. Koufax: Who Is the Dodgers’ Greatest Left-Hander?

Some 25 years after he retired from the game, I saw the Great One enter a baseball locker room and like an apparition, dissolve and disappear behind a shuttered door. When he reemerged—looking nearly the same as he did when he threw his last pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966—Sandy Koufax glided resplendently onto a baseball field, his iconic number 32 majestically emblazoned on his back, like righteous wings.

On that late February day in 1991, I was part of a throng of boomer worshippers attending a Dodgers Adult Camp in Vero Beach, Fla. When Koufax appeared we bowed, gathered around, and reverently gawked as he mingled and posed for photos. He gave a brief talk on the fine points of pitching—something akin to Da Vinci giving a brief talk on the fine points of painting—and then was gone, vanishing back behind the shuttered door and back to his Salingeresque-reclusive ways.

Through the years little has changed in the debate as to who was—or is—the supreme left handed pitcher in the game; for most of us, it has always been Koufax, then and now.

But the paradigm may be shifting a bit as of late; there may be small, growing fissures in the argument as to who is better, who is the greatest, and which southpaw would you rather have on your team: Sandy Koufax or the newcomer—a stylish, soon-to-be 26-year-old with watertight mechanics named Clayton Kershaw.

Armed at an early age with a prodigious curveball and this spring with the largest contract ever awarded a pitcher, for now Kershaw is the freshly anointed one. And as blasphemous as it may be, there are whispers by some who dare say he will eclipse the memory of Sandy Koufax as the greatest pitcher—left-hander or right-hander—in the history of the Los Angeles Dodgers, if not all of baseball.

A cursory glance at statistics—baseball’s omnipresent life thread of measurement and information—will show that Kershaw is indeed far ahead of Koufax at this stage of their careers after just six years in the major leagues. Entering the 2014 season, Kershaw’s overall record is 77-46, a sterling, eye-popping winning percentage of .626.

Koufax? After six seasons he was barely hanging on, languishing as a reliever and infrequent spot starter. When he was signed as a “bonus baby” in 1954 by the Brooklyn Dodgers and following the team’s move west, Koufax’s overall record was a derisory 37-42 with an ERA that ballooned to 4.48 in 1958. But he had shown flashes of brilliance, flashes of something incredibly electrifying and the team’s manager Walter Alston and general manager Buzzie Bavasi stuck with him, believing if his untamed left arm could ever find the strike zone, they would have something very special.

Kershaw? There have never been doubts or hesitations. Starting with the remark prominently attributed to former manager Joe Torre back in 2008 that the then-19-year-old fireballer “reminds me of Koufax,” Kershaw has had—fairly or unfairly—the shroud of greatness hanging around his neck like a noose.

Not so with the young Koufax, who didn’t begin his ascension until his breakout 1961 season when he went 18-13 with a league-leading and major league record of 269 strikeouts. Overall he fashioned a remarkable winning percentage of .655, in spite of his poor record prior to ’61. For six seasons—1961 through 1966—baseball had seen nothing like him, nothing close to the magic of his curve or the brilliance blaze of his fastball. His numbers during that stretch are beyond extraordinary, beyond incredible. Simply put, Koufax grew from below mediocre at best early in his career, to possibly the most overpowering pitcher, ever.

When he was forced to retire at the zenith of achievement because of his hexed arthritic left elbow—at just age 31—Koufax left a legacy few thought could ever be matched. Significantly, too, he left a frustrating, arcane question: what if? What if he had been able to pitch one, two, three or more seasons and put up similar incomparable numbers?

No one knows what could have been. We’re left only with a meteoric glimpse at genuine greatness, a baseball deity that has been unequaled. But this, we do know: very few pitchers dodge the injury plague—including, obviously, Koufax. And that brings us back to Clayton Kershaw.

Baseball’s history confirms how dicey it is for pitching phenoms to continue awe-inspiring success trajectories when just starting out; the list of once-heralded hurlers forced from the game early because of injury is frightening in its totality, scary in its reality. So the stormy, dark cloud of injury always hovers and Kershaw’s growing legion of admirers are faced with ominous questions:

  • With his extraordinary mechanics, described by many pitching gurus as “nearly flawless,” can Kershaw sustain his astonishing early success and avoid injury, long-term?
  • Can he add to his already impressive career that includes two Cy Young awards (and a second place in 2012), just one shy of Koufax himself?
  • Can he stay focused and maintain a strict discipline?

Here’s the kicker for those jumping on the Kershaw band wagon: No matter how glittering his numbers, no matter how many Cy Young plaques may hang on his wall, until Clayton Kershaw wins a World Series he will always lag behind the three rings Sandy Koufax can boast.

Mythical or not, the Koufax aura sets an almost impossible standard. But if the conjectural heir apparent can match or surpass Koufax in championship wins and maintain a semblance of his early success, then the coronation and crowning of a new Great One can begin.

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Being There: An Ode to Baseball

You have dreamed of this moment before you bought your ticket. Indeed, it was the thought of buying the ticket that was the germinating seed of this dream. You have a smile on your face, because you know that you are about to witness a historical, traditional, rarified love…a baseball game. 

Maybe you are with your wife. Maybe you are with your kids. Maybe you are with a bunch of your rowdy friends and you can’t wait to get in the stands to be rowdy with the rest of your “friends” who all root for the same team. Maybe, like myself, you even go alone because once you get there, you are not alone. 

Whichever is the case, you’re ecstatic. The feeling of joy intensifies as you pass through the gate, handing off the ticket to your dreams. The collective hope and joy is all around in the buzz of the stadium and you can feel the immensity of it. 

Then it happens. You have checked your ticket for where you will be sitting then as the concrete walkways and walls give way you look through the first section that you come upon and there it is: The diamond.

Lush and green, with white lines, four bases and a fence that defines the game. It is as if you have walked into a temple. Depending on your perspective, if it is in line with mine, you have. 

We come and unconsciously worship the ghosts of legend. Conjuring up the spirit of those who have come before us and laid the groundwork for this amazing tradition. We do this because we understand that without Babe Ruth, there’s no Roger Maris nor Mark McGwire.

Likewise, we understand emphatically that without Josh Gibson there is no Jackie Robinson and that we would have surely missed out on the greatness of Willie and Hank. Furthermore, without the courageous spirit of Branch Rickey, we couldn’t enjoy it together, as one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. 

When we are truly in the spirit of the legacy of love called baseball this unconscious worship of legend plants the seed in our collective consciousness that asks, who will be the next legend whose name will be inscribed on the consciousness of future generations? What amazing feat has yet to materialize in this game that will be enshrined in the hearts of those unborn? Will it happen today? While I’m here? 

Thus, you run, quickly—so as not to miss a thing—to buy your traditional beer, dog, Cracker Jack, maybe some fries, never minding the ridiculous cost because…it’s baseball.

Upon finding your section, row and seat you squeeze in with 40,000 other folks, the vast majority of which are of the “casual fan” variety. You pay them no mind, because you know that you are in the vast minority of men, women and children that actually “get it.” 

Yes, you are of the other variety of fans. You’re like the elder guy two rows ahead of you that listens to the game on his handheld radio, or like his wife sitting next to him who owns a book of scorecards and is currently going through passed games that she has kept score of. 

You are the fan that nobody understands. They ask, why do fans do such things like listen to the game on the radio, or keep score, or never leave their seat from the first pitch to the last and get annoyed when people want to talk at the most critical stage of the game? 

But imagine what it would have been like if you were able to be in the stadium behind home plate the day that Sandy Koufax pitched arguably the greatest perfect game in the history of baseball. Imagine what it would have been like to be at that game, with a scorecard, to record the moment so that you could frame it and pass it down through your family.

Even more, imagine if you could have been at the game and heard Vin Scully calling those last 6 strikeouts of Koufax’s legendary moment. Priceless.

It is the sound of the bat, the awaiting of the next pitch like the next breath in meditation, the “head game” of trying to out think the person that stands before you and strategizing ways to manipulate your opponent into losing. It is fans who all of a sudden become coaches and writers that live as trickster critics.

It is the long legacy that got us here and the beauty of people from around the world coming to the United States to play this game as this is the stage of the embodiment of the greatest game on earth.

It is “the catch,” “the shot heard around the world,” 100+ years of baseball futility for the Chicago Cubs and 27 championships for the Yankees. It is “Teddy Ballgame” and the legend of .406 and Satchel Paige pitching three innings of shutout baseball at the age of 59.

It is the legend of Josh Gibson hitting a game winning home run in Pittsburgh that landed in the glove of an opposing player the next day in Washington. It is another Gibson, Bob, who managed to average allowing a measly 1.12 earned runs per 9 innings in 1968. 

It is yet another Gibson, Kirk, fist pumping on two bad legs around second base after a game winning home run against Dennis Eckersley. 

It is Joe Carter’s World Series winning home run, the summer of ’98, Curt Schilling’s debated bloody sock and the Red Sox shocking the world to come back from a three game deficit to the Yankees only to sweep my beloved Cardinals in the World Series.

And, yes…it is the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry, as much as it is the Dodgers/Giants, Cubs/Cardinals and every team vs. the Yankees. 

It is myth, legend, lore, statistics, hall of fame credentials and potential, endless debates about the who’s, what’s and why’s and above all…it is about the game…and you wouldn’t want to miss any moment of it. 

Yes, you get it. You understand that as Dan Millman learned in The Way of the Peaceful Warrior that, “There are no ordinary moments” and that at any given moment…the extraordinary could happen. You realize that this may be the moment that you get to tell your friends and family of the experience of being there. 

After all, you know, baseball is love. Baseball is a reflection of life. Maybe you relate with the batter that digs his feet in knowing that best in the game only get a hit 3.5 times out of 10, and as he grips the bat with the intention of helping his team toward victory, he understands that it is him against nine guys and the odds of winning are slimmer than the odds of success. Do you feel like him sometimes? 

Maybe in this mirror of life you feel like the pitcher who stares down that very same batter knowing that he has an arsenal of weaponry to slim that guys chances of getting a hit even more. Beyond that, maybe as you relate with the pitcher, you realize that you have a supporting cast of family and friends who have “got your back”—literally. 

Baseball is beautiful, isn’t it? Here you are with thousands of other people that you don’t know from anywhere, that you may have passed on the street and didn’t recognize, and the common thread that is bringing you together at this moment in history is this amazing game played inside (and outside) the lines.  

Indeed, this beautiful sport has nearly everything that life offers; passion, intelligence, philosophy, athletic agility, camaraderie, love, compassion, magic, hatred (of the Red Sox, Yankees and their fans, ha!), hope, promise, integration, humility, entertainment and escape from the worldly politics into the politics of the game. Sure it misses in some areas, but even the perfect game isn’t “perfect” (Sandy threw a wild pitch that sent his hat flying in that last inning). 

So, you sit there, awaiting the first pitch, not thinking about the last, watching with the understanding that being there is an event all to itself.

Whether you are at the stadium or even at home watching it on TV or listening on the radio, as you focus your energies sharply, baseball’s truth springs into your awareness and you are quite metaphorically in the game. 

And that, my friends, is a beautiful place to be. That…is a dream materialized. 

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Pedro Martinez Versus Sandy Koufax: Who Was the Greater Starting Pitcher?

Last week, I compared Pedro Martinez and Walter Johnson to determine who the greatest pitcher of all time was. My answer was Pedro—and it wasn’t even close.

A commenter disagreed, saying, “I love Walter Johnson and think, of the two, he is the better pitcher; but, for me the greatest ever was Sandy Koufax. WJ had a far longer career than Koufax, but that 6 season period (’61-’66) which SK dominated was astonishing.”

So I decided to compare Pedro and Koufax to see if this commenter was right.

As always, first we take a look at Baseball-Reference, and we come up with the following stats:

Pedro Martinez

Three Cy Youngs (and four other top five finishes), two top five MVP finishes, one AL Pitching Triple Crown, 219 Wins, .687 Win Percentage, 409 Games Started, 46 Complete Games, 17 Shutouts, 2,827.1 Innings Pitched, 2.93 ERA, 154 ERA+, 1.054 WHIP, 3154 Ks, 760 BBs, 4.15 K/BB Ratio, 10.0 K/9 and an eight-time All-Star.

Sandy Koufax

Three Cy Youngs (and one other top five finish), one MVP (and two other top five finishes), three MLB Pitching Triple Crowns, 165 Wins, .655 Win Percentage, 314 Games Started, 137 Complete Games, 40 Shutouts, 2,324.1 Innings Pitched, 2.76 ERA, 131 ERA+, 1.106 WHIP, 2396 Ks, 817 BBs, 2.93 K/BB Ratio, 9.3 K/9 Ratio and a six-time All-Star.

A quick glance at these stats shows Pedro leads in 10 of the categories (Wins, Win Percentage, Games Started, Innings Pitched, ERA+, WHIP, Ks, BBs, K/BB Ratio and K/9) and Sandy leads in four (MLB Pitching Triple Crowns, Complete Games, Shutouts and ERA). I didn’t count Cy Youngs, MVPs or All-Star appearances (those awards have changed how they are handled over time).

Without looking deeper, Pedro is clearly the better pitcher. However, you don’t just do a quick look; you need to delve deeper into what the stats actually mean.

Let’s start with the stats we can “throw away.” In the article comparing Pedro to Walter Johnson, I discussed how wins and winning percentage are almost completely out of the pitcher’s hands, so I don’t really look at those stats when comparing players.

Also, the number of the complete games a pitcher throws and how many innings a pitcher pitches are more dependent on how bullpens are used, so those stats can be “tossed out” because they don’t really tell you how great a pitcher was. By doing this, Pedro now leads in six categories and Sandy leads in three.

As I discussed in my previous article, shutouts by themselves are not a good stat due to how bullpens are used today to maintain the lead in a close game instead of just letting the starter go the distance. What really matters is out of the complete games a pitcher had, what was the percentage of shutouts?

By doing some simple calculations, we find that Pedro threw a shutout in 37 percent of his complete games and Sandy threw a shutout in 29 percent of his; so if given the chance, Pedro was more likely to have a shutout, and that now means Pedro leads in seven categories and Sandy leads in two.

The one category that is clearly in Koufax’ favor is MLB Pitching Triple Crowns. His dominance over the league in 1963, 1965 and 1966 is one of the best stretches of dominance in baseball history. Pedro had one Pitching Triple Crown, but his was “only” for the American League. So Koufax will keep this category in his favor; however, I plan on covering who was actually more dominant a little bit later.

The final category that Koufax leads in is ERA. ERA is tricky because the era it happened in has to be accounted for. In Sandy’s case, ERAs in all of baseball were lower across the board. How do we know this? Well, that’s what ERA+ is for.

If we look at ERA+, we see that even though Pedro’s ERA is higher, his ERA+ is much better in comparison. This means, that relative to other pitchers’ ERAs, his ERA was much better in comparison than Koufax’ ERA was in comparison to ERAs of his time. I’d rather have a pitcher with a higher ERA but better ERA+ than a pitcher with a lower ERA but lower ERA+.

The other stats that Pedro has a lead in (Ks, BBs, K/BB Ratio, K/9 and WHIP) further prove how much of a better pitcher Pedro was. He struck out more batters, walked fewer, had better control (K/BB ratio) and struck out more per inning than Koufax did. His WHIP also shows that he allowed fewer baserunners, and the opposing team can’t score runs if it doesn’t get men on base.

Now let’s talk about dominance. This is what I believe is the main reason the commenter made the initial statement that started this article. Koufax’ stretch of dominant seasons of 1962 through 1966 is among the best such periods of dominance in history. However, Pedro also has a similar period of dominance: 1997 through 2005 (minus injury-riddled 2001).

For this conversation, let’s compare Koufax’ ’62-66 seasons to Pedro’s best seasons during his dominant period (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002).

Koufax’ best WHIP was .875 in 1963; Pedro’s was .737 in 2000. Koufax’ best ERA+ was 190 in 1966; Pedro’s was 291 in 2000. During the periods of dominance, Koufax had an ERA+ over 200 zero times, while Pedro had an ERA+ over 200 four times from 1997-2002. Koufax had a WHIP below 1.000 four times, Pedro five.

What this tells us is that even though Koufax is known for those years of dominance, Pedro had a similar period of dominance that was actually better.

The final thing to consider when comparing players is that you have to take their whole careers into account, not just a period of dominance, and this is where Pedro separates himself even further from Koufax.

They both started their careers at about the same age (19 for Koufax, 20 for Pedro); however, Pedro was a much better pitcher from the start, while Koufax’ first six seasons were average—only had ERA+ over 110 one time, and WHIP was never lower than 1.284. Compare that to Pedro’s first five seasons (his sixth season was the beginning of his dominant period), and you’ll see that his ERA+ was never below 117 and his WHIP was never higher than 1.243.

If Koufax’ career was only based on his last six seasons, he would have an argument as the best pitcher ever; however, when you account for his first six average/below average seasons, he drops in the all-time rankings. When you account for all of Pedro’s career, he’s clearly the best starting pitcher ever, and it’s not even close.

What do you think? Do you agree? Do you want to make a case for someone else? Please leave a comment with your thoughts. Also, if you liked this breakdown and want to see me compare other players, please suggest them—players at the same position work best, but I’ll compare any position to any position if needed (except pitchers, of course; they can only be compared to each other).

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Clayton Kershaw and the 10 Best Lefty Starters in Dodgers History

Clayton Kershaw is not only quickly becoming the face of the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise, but he’s also arguably on the fast track to being one of the premiere starters in all of baseball.

Among the larger criticisms of the Dodgers pitching staff is the lack of a true ace, however Kershaw’s performance during his first full two years of service indicates that it’s only a matter of time before he fills that void.

Kershaw, who will turn 23 in March, finished the 2010 season at 13-10 with a 2.91 ERA and 212 strikeouts in just over 204 innings of work. His number of wins could have easily been much higher if it weren’t for the Dodgers’ sluggish bats, who incidentally provided the lefty phenom with a mere 3.9 runs per game of offensive support.

One of his most impressive performances of last season came on May 9 when he outdueled Colorado Rockies’ ace Ubaldo Jimenez to lead Los Angeles to a 1-0 victory. Earning the win, Kershaw threw eight innings of shutout ball while striking out nine, having only surrendered two hits and three walks. Notwithstanding, he topped that effort with his first career complete-game shutout against Barry Zito and the San Francisco Giants on September 14. During that affair, Kershaw yielded no walks and only four hits as the Dodgers clinched the 1-0 win.

Although he doesn’t yet have the track record to prove so, some fans across Dodgertown have already began discussions that rank Kershaw among the greatest left-handed starters in Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers history. It may sound absurd, but Kershaw may become known among the Dodger lefty greats sooner than many would expect.

Surprisingly, amidst the Dodgers’ rich pitching heritage that spans 127 years, very few southpaws have experienced any type of dominating, consistent success. It’s not difficult in the least for the common Dodger enthusiast to list upwards of 35 right-handed starting pitchers who have proven to be elite, however the task of naming only 10 lefties is extremely challenging.

The following slides highlight 10 of the most successful southpaws in Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers history, as well as offer a bit of commentary regarding their careers as Dodgers. For those reading this piece who know of any die-hard Dodger fans who claim to be historical scholars or statistic addicts, feel free to challenge them to name 10 starting left-handed starting pitchers who deserve to be among the Dodgers elite—the task can certainly make even the most well-informed Dodger enthusiast seem feeble-minded.

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MLB Power Rankings: The Greatest Pitcher In The History of Every Franchise

I spend way to much time at baseballreference.com. For real. There actually might be something wrong with me. I don’t know what it is about baseball statistics and history that fascinates so much, all I know is that I’ve studied this stuff since I was eight years old and got my first pack of cards.

In one of my days of “research,” I compiled a list of the greatest pitchers for each franchise. There were teams like Atlanta that had guys like Warren Spahn, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. Then there were teams like the Milwaukee Brewers that hadn’t ever had a great pitcher in the history of their franchise. Guys like Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling didn’t make this list, but others like Doug Drabek did. 

So anyway, here are greatest pitchers in each teams history.

Writer’s Note: Players had to be playing during or after Jackie Robinson’s debut to be considered (for obvious reasons). Baseball has been around for ever, and you gotta draw the line somewhere. 

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Roy Halladay Grabs NL Cy Young Award: Power Ranking Top 15 Winners in NL History

Roy Halladay effectively killed whatever drama might have been attached to the announcement of the 2010 National League Cy Young Award winner.

It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Phillies’ ace ran away with the thing once Josh Johnson got shelved while Ubaldo Jimenez and Adam Wainwright blinked in the second half of the season.

The Florida Marlin didn’t miss too many games and neither the Colorado Rockie, nor the better of the two St. Louis Cardinal untouchables struggled badly or for very long, but Halladay simply gave the other horses no margin for error:


33 GS, 250.2 IP, 21-10, 2.44 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 7.30 K/BB, .245/.271/.373


Further sweetening the pot were Doc’s league-leading nine complete games, league-leading four shutouts, the perfect game and the no-hitter in his playoff debut (though that one didn’t happen in time for the voting).

How’s that for your first year with a new club?

The second “Year of the Pitcher” gave us brilliance from those mentioned along with Tim Hudson, Roy Oswalt and Mat Latos, but none was as blinding as Roy Halladay.

However, as good as the burly right-hander’s campaign was, it still wasn’t quite dandy enough to crack this petrified nut. Without further ado, here are the top 15 NL Cy Youngs in the history of the award.


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Pedro Martinez or Sandy Koufax? Why Tim Lincecum and His Frame Won’t Flame Out

The San Francisco Giants have been the 2010 World Series Champions for about a week now, which means Tim Lincecum and his buddies are probably just now fully appreciating what they’ve done for the city.

However, as the champagne from San Francisco’s first baseball title goes flat and the last scraps of confetti get washed away by November rains, greedy Bay Area eyes are already turning toward 2011 and beyond.

The rosier lenses in the region see a lot more winning down the road.

With the young rotation bristling with talent and forged by postseason experience, Buster Posey behind the dish, and a budget that can/should expand efficiently, there is plenty about which to be excited if you follow baseball on the shores of the San Francisco Bay.

Yet any discussion about los Gigantes that involves a look to the future inevitably comes back to Lincecum, his slight build, and his importance to the team. The (sound) logic is that the horizon gets considerably grayer if the Franchise isn’t taking the pearl every fifth day and his skeptics are perpetually predicting the first muscle strain or bulging disc that will announce the beginning of the end.

For Timmy and for the Giants.

But those skeptics haven’t been paying attention.

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World Series 2010: Matt Cain and the Top 15 Pitching Runs in Playoff History

Over the years, October has been the time of the year for which baseball fans yearn. The drama and thrill of postseason baseball is among the greatest shows in American sports. Legacies are sculpted in October, players are immortalized and teams written in stone.

Great hitters such as Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson (and 25 other Yankees) have wowed with the wood, while others, such as Ozzie Smith, have put on sudden, clutch power displays.

Infamy has stalked many a postseason athlete, whether it be a blown save or a late-game error. Managers have been exulted or scorned for brilliant lineup and pitching decisions or boneheaded moves (ahem, Dusty Baker).

However, nothing quite garners respect like dominant postseason pitching. While hitters can be clutch, this is still a pitcher’s game, and dominant pitchers can literally define an entire postseason through their own efforts.

It is here that we will count down the top 15 single postseason performances by the great hurlers through the years, documenting their brilliance.

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Tim Lincecum and The 10 Greatest World Series-Clinching Pitching Gems

In his young career, Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants has accomplished some pretty special things on a pitching mound. Already owning two Cy Young awards, he has now added a World Series title, in which he out-pitched Cliff Lee in the clinching game to earn the Giants their first title since moving out west from New York.

Lincecum and his merry band of outsiders, otherwise known as the 2010 San Francisco Giants, out-pitched, outhit, and outclassed the Texas Rangers in every facet of the game, earning themselves baseball’s most coveted prize, the title of World Series Champions.

Facing an offensive powerhouse, led by leading American League MVP candidate, Josh Hamilton, as well a pitching staff headed by modern postseason legend, Cliff Lee, the San Francisco Giants weren’t expected to have much of a chance against the Texas Rangers. Relishing the underdog nature of their title challenge, the Giants went to work, with several dominant pitching performances and a rotating cast of characters providing heroics each night.

The resulting five game World Series victory is the Giants’ first championship since 1954, and the lone title they have won since relocating to San Francisco prior to the 1958 season.

Led by their own pitching phenom, Tim Lincecum, the Giants proved that strong pitching is the key to baseball postseason success. Lincecum’s stellar effort, coming five days after an uneven Game 1 start, would be enough to stifle the powerful Rangers and claim the championship.

San Francisco’s unorthodox right-hander already authored a classic postseason start in his personal playoff debut during the NLDS, but his World Series clinching Game 5 performance will stand as one of the greatest clinching performances baseball has seen.

Let’s see where Lincecum’s gem ranks among the greatest World Series clinching, starting pitching performances of all time.

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Cliff Lee or Sandy Koufax?: Why Texas Rangers’ Lee Is the Better Game 7 Ace

While Cliff Lee of the Texas Rangers continues his somewhat surprising march toward baseball immortality, each of his subsequent dominant postseason starts helps him climb higher and higher toward the pinnacle of baseball’s Mount Olympus.

Already, after only parts of two seasons performing on baseball’s grandest stage, Lee has earned himself the right to be mentioned alongside legends of the game like Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford and Bob Gibson, pitchers who excelled when the stakes were the highest.

As baseball fans, we constantly attempt to place our heroes within their proper historical context, by comparing them with stars of the divergent eras in the history of the game. Sure, Albert Pujols is amazing today, but how would he fare in the Polo Grounds, or against spit-ball pitchers? Could Babe Ruth possibly have crushed 714 home runs against today’s fire-balling hurlers and relief specialists? Tim Lincecum may be “The Freak,” but could his dominance withstand the expectation to throw 300 innings a year?

The comparison between Cliff Lee and Sandy Koufax becomes inevitable, as their names now sit near each other on many postseason baseball leader boards. Obviously, their shared, left-handed throwing hand makes them easy to group together, but more so, the way in which they have dominated their playoff opponents has elevated them above the rest of the field into a class of their own. After eight playoff appearances each, seven starts for Koufax, and eight for Lee, they are at a nearly identical point in their postseason careers, making the comparisons even more appropriate.

These similarities between the two dominant left-handed hurlers practically beg the question: if your team was facing a decisive Game 7 in a playoff series, who would you prefer to have starting on the hill? Cliff Lee or Sandy Koufax?

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