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Sports Then and Now

10 Players Who Thrived in Baseball’s Clutch Moments

Posted on September 22, 2011 by Jena Ellis

Reggie Jackson's play in the post season earned him the nickname "Mr. October."

You can debate whether or not there’s such a thing as “clutch” hitting. Scoring runs in the first inning is just as important as scoring runs in the ninth inning, right? Does the process of securing a hit change dramatically as the situation changes dramatically? Should we completely ignore the human elements of emotion, concentration and focus, each of which may fluctuate depending on the person in the batter’s box?

The following players (five hitters, five pitchers), for whatever reason, hit and pitched extremely well during the postseason, a period of time when the margin for error — and patience for under performing — is at a minimum.

1. Babe Ruth
He’s the greatest for a reason. As a pitcher in the postseason, Ruth boasts a microscopic 0.87 ERA in 31 innings pitched, a shutout and a 3-0 record. His best performance came in a 14-inning, complete game win in Game 2 of the 1916 World Series. In both World Series in which he pitched, the Red Sox won (1916 over the Brooklyn Robins and 1918 over the Chicago Cubs). As a hitter, he amassed 15 home runs in 167 plate appearances, accumulating an impressive 1.211 OPS. In 1928, he hit .625 in a four-game sweep of the Cardinals, notably mashing three home runs in the series-clinching game.

2. Reggie Jackson
Mr. October kindly disagrees with the idea that clutch hitting doesn’t exist. He was the first player to win World Series MVP with two different teams (Athletics and Yankees), and was just the second player to hit three homeruns in a World Series game — that, as you probably know, came in the series-clinching Game 6 of the 1977 World Series versus the Dodgers. During the six games, he hit five home runs with a .450 average and 1.792 OPS. A year later, he led the Yankees to a repeat in a rematch, hitting a meager two home runs with a .391 average and 1.196 OPS. He hit 18 home runs during his postseason career.

Who is the Greatest Clutch Hitter in Baseball History?

  • Lou Gehrig (27%, 11 Votes)
  • Someone else (27%, 11 Votes)
  • Babe Ruth (20%, 8 Votes)
  • Reggie Jackson (17%, 7 Votes)
  • Manny Ramirez (7%, 3 Votes)
  • George Brett (2%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 41

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3. Lou Gehrig

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig gave the New York Yankees two dominant post season performers.

Although his postseason career wasn’t as extensive as Ruth’s or Jackson’s, Gehrig certainly performed when he got the chance. Never did he hit below .286 in a World Series, twice hitting better than .500. In 1928, he hit .545 in a sweep of the Cardinals — the series in which Ruth hit .625 and three homers in the clincher — and in 1932, he hit .529 in a sweep of the Cubs. During his postseason career, he hit 10 home runs in 150 plate appearances with a .361 average and 1.208 OPS. He won six World Series in seven appearances, three of which included Ruth.

4. George Brett
Despite the fact that he had the misfortune of facing the ultra-talented Yankees during his first four playoff appearances, Brett consistently delivered for the underdog Royals. During their first three matchups, each of which the Royals lost, he hit .444, .300 and .389 respectively, the latter of which included three home runs in four games. In 1980, he finally overcame the Bronx Bombers, but lost to the Phillies in a hard-fought six-game series in which he tallied nine hits, two doubles, a triple and a home run with a .375 average and 1.090 OPS. During the 1985 ALCS against the Blue Jays, he hit three home runs with a 1.326 OPS in seven games, which enabled him to eventually capture his only World Series title. For his postseason career, he boasts a 1.023 OPS.

5. Manny Ramirez

With 493 plate appearances, only four players have more postseason experience than Manny. He played with three clubs for significant periods of time and led each of them to postseason success. His first two World Series appearances were less than stellar, but he more than made up for it in the 2004 Series between the Sox and Cardinals, as he hit .412 with a 1.088 OPS, earning MVP honors. His best single-series performance came during the 2007 ALCS versus Cleveland, in which he hit two home runs, 10 RBIs with a .409 average and 1.290 OPS in seven games. During the 2008 playoffs, at the age of 36, he hit four home runs and 10 RBIs with a .520 average and 1.747 OPS in eight games. His 29 career postseason home runs is the record.

6. Mariano Rivera
In 94 postseason appearances from 1995 to 2010, Rivera blew just four saves. Undoubtedly the best closer of all time and possibly the best postseason pitcher of all time, he’s arguably been the Yankee’s most valuable player during their recent championship runs. He’s the all-time career postseason leader with 42 saves and a 0.71 ERA — that means he’s given up just 11 earned runs during that time period. For his work, he has won the 1999 World Series MVP award and 2003 ALCS MVP award.

7. Bob Gibson

Bob Gibson was the man you wanted on the mound in the big games.

It’s quality over quantity for Gibson. He participated in three World Series, winning two, and both times he was given MVP honors (1964 and 1967). In nine starts, he totaled eight complete games and won seven, including two Game 7s — his only two losses came in Game 2 of the 1964 series versus the Yankees and Game 7 of the 1968 series versus the Tigers, his last. In 81 innings pitched during his postseason career, he tallied a 1.89 ERA and 92 Ks, exhibiting pure dominance over his opponents.

8.Orel Hershiser
Hershiser allowed 13 earned runs in two appearances during the 1997 World Series when he was a hair below 40 years old, and even still, it couldn’t ruin what he accomplished during the 11 other postseason series in which he participated. Sporting a 2.59 ERA in 22 appearances during his postseason career, he was the go-to starter for the Dodgers and Indians during their heydays. He’s best remembered for his remarkable 1988 season. After he reeled off 59.1 consecutive scoreless inning through the end of September and unanimously won the Cy Young award, he won the NLCS MVP award (his second LCS MVP award — he also won the 1995 ALCS MVP award) and World Series MVP award, posting a 1.07 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 42 innings pitched. He’s the only player to have received all three of those honors in the same season.

Who is the Greatest Clutch Pitcher in Baseball History?

  • Mariano Rivera (29%, 9 Votes)
  • Bob Gibson (26%, 8 Votes)
  • Someone else (19%, 6 Votes)
  • Curt Schilling (16%, 5 Votes)
  • John Smoltz (6%, 2 Votes)
  • Orel Hershiser (3%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 31

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9. John Smoltz
Game 7 of the 1991 World Series between the Braves and Twins was an obvious precursor to Smoltz’s abundant postseason success. The then-24-year-old demonstrated incredible calm under pressure, pitching 7.1 shutout innings in the Metrodome — and that proceeded his complete game shutout of the Pirates in Game 7 of the NLCS at Three Rivers Stadium, which secured the Braves their first NL pennant in 33 years. A year later, he won the 1992 NLCS MVP award after pitching 20.1 innings, winning three games and posting a 2.66 ERA. In 41 postseason appearances, he tallied a 2.67 ERA and 15 wins, second to Andy Pettitte.

10. Curt Schilling

Always the workhorse of his teams, Schilling helped the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox reach the World Series, the latter two, of course, won each time they appeared in it. During his first playoff appearance with the Phillies, he held the Braves to three earned runs in 16 innings, earning 1993 NLCS MVP honors. In 2001 with the Diamondbacks, he pitched three consecutive complete games en route to the World Series versus the vaunted Yankees, where he made three more starts, winning Game 1 and pitching extremely well in Game 7. He shared the Series’ MVP honors with Randy Johnson, the other half of one of the most formidable one-two punches in baseball history. In 48.1 innings during that postseason, he went 5-1 with 56 Ks and a 1.12 ERA. Of course, in 2004, the famous — or infamous depending on where you stand on the issue — bloody sock Game 6 of the ALCS helped the Sox end their 86-year drought.

This article is reprinted with permission from Online Certificate Programs.

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