While the League Championships Series continues this week, Richard looks back at some notable leaders in that series, one that is often overlooked.
Watching broadcasts on Fox or TBS this October, one cannot help but notice that statistics for postseason play are often divided up into two types: playoff leaders and World Series. This makes sense, of course; Mickey Mantle’s 18 home runs in the World Series came in just 65 games, compared to Manny Ramirez, who hit seven more, but did in almost fifty more games. It isn’t quite an apples-to-oranges comparison, but a distinction should be drawn.
Because of this, leaders in the series that lead up to the World Series itself are often overlooked. While great performances in Championship Series—and to a lesser extent, Division Series—are sometimes remembered, they pale in comparison to the World Series.
This is not entirely unfair; it is the World Series that matters most, but it is unfortunate that some great performances on nearly as large a stage are unnoticed. In an attempt to shed more light on these moments, as the LCS themselves are being played, this week we look back on great performances in LCS play.
To many, Jesse Orosco is that guy who pitched forever (a title since taken from him by Jamie Moyer) or maybe that guy who got the last out in ’86, throwing his glove in the air in delirium. But Orosco is also the all-time record holder for most wins in a single Championship Series. Perhaps even more impressively, Orosco earned his three wins in four games. Orosco pitched two innings of scoreless relief in both Game Three and Game Five of that 1986 LCS to earn the victories.
Game Six would prove much tougher. Coming off a day when he had thrown 24 pitches in relief, Orosco entered the game in the bottom of the fourteenth, hoping to nail down the Mets’ 4-3 lead. It was not to be, as Billy Hatcher hit a full-count fastball down the left field line, tying the game.
Orosco would retire the next six Astros he faced after Hatcher, the last of them coming as the first out, with the Mets now holding a 7-4 lead, in the bottom of the sixteenth inning. Perhaps running on fumes, he would allow four of the next five base runners to reach, but struck out Kevin Bass to end the series and earn his third win.
|Carlos Beltran, owner of perhaps the best LCS performance ever. (Icon/SMI)|
Orosco’s three wins in a single series are impressive for career totals, but the all-time leader is Dave Stewart. Stewart is one of the great LCS performers of all-time; in addition to his eight wins in LCS play—one more than Andy Pettitte, who might yet tie him this year—Stewart had a career 2.03 ERA in more than 75 innings. He was voted MVP of the both the 1990 (2-0, 1.13 ERA) and 1993 (2-0, 2.03 ERA) ALCS. Perhaps most impressively of all, Stewart’s eight LCS wins came without a loss.
(It was not a shock to learn that the all-time save leader in LCS play is, of course, Mariano Rivera who has 13. He also ranks, as of Wednesday night, in the top five in LCS games played, ERA, walks per nine innings, WHIP and winning percentage.)
While neither holds the any record for single-series performance in LCS play, it is hard to imagine two players simultaneously having a better series than Will Clark and Mark Grace in the 1989 NLCS. Over five games, Grace hit .647 with three doubles, a triple, and a home run. For good measure, he also stole a base and walked four times. Incredibly, Clark was even better, albeit only slightly. He hit .650, had three doubles, a triple and two home runs. Others have had higher numbers at each figure—though few in so many chances—but for sheer “anything you can do, I can do better” excitement, none could top Grace and Clark.
As of this writing, the all-time record for home runs in a single LCS is split among a number of players with four, including Evan Longoria and BJ Upton—who both did in 2008—and Bob Roberson, who did in 1971. But as of this writing, because both Robinson Cano and Josh Hamilton each have four home runs (while in the NLCS, Cody Ross has three) by Friday night, this article could be notably out of date.
For career leaders, two names are spread around the leader boards: Derek Jeter and Manny Ramirez. Jeter, the all-time leader in runs scored and doubles, is also among the all-time highest in home runs, RBIs, walks, stolen bases and hits. For hits, he is currently chasing Manny Ramirez, who is the all-time leader there in addition to singles, walks, home runs and total bases. It will come as no surprise that Jeter and Ramirez also rank first and second all-time in LCS plate appearances.
Picking a single player on both the hitting and fielding side for dominating performance in League Championship Series is not as easy as it might seem. While it is tempting to simply pick the player with the best numbers, this raises questions. Was Lloyd McClendon’s .727 batting average and 1.932 OPS in 16 plate appearances across five games more impressive than Carlos Beltran’s .417 and 1.512 in 32 PA across seven contests, all while playing center field?
How does one compared the show put on by Mike Scott who pitched two complete games, allowed just nine base runners (with only one walk) and was voted series MVP despite being on the losing side in 1986 with that of another Met-killer, Orel Hershiser in 1988? The Bulldog threw more than 24 innings, started three games, and for good measure earned a save the day after he had thrown seven innings.
Ultimately, there is almost certainly no “right” answer for the most dominating LCS performance; each feat has to be considered on one’s personal standards. But these performances do deserve to be remembered and recognized as more than just one piece of the lump of “playoff statistics.” The League Championship Series is a step on the way to the World Series, but it is no small step, and its best performers deserve their share of the credit.