The all-time best games from Cards pitchers

January 18th, 2021

ST. LOUIS -- You don’t have to be an all-time Cardinals great to have an all-time great game for the Cardinals -- although some of the greats have certainly had standout performances. One legendary game can put a player in the record books and provide a lifetime of memories, no matter the season or career he went on to have.

St. Louis has seen its share of pitchers dominating the mound on any given game. Here are some of the top individual pitching performances in Cardinals history:

1. , Oct. 2, 1968: Game 1 of the World Series
Key fact: 17 strikeouts remains a playoff record

It was a pitching matchup about as epic as they come, with both leagues' eventual Cy Young and MVP winners meeting on the mound to open the 1968 World Series -- Gibson was coming off a historic 1.12 ERA season, while the Tigers’ Denny McLain went 31-6 in baseball’s last 30-win season. Gibson won the duel with a masterpiece: a 17-strikeout shutout that broke Sandy Koufax’s single-game postseason record set in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series.

This magnificent performance from Gibson earned him a Game Score of 93, a concept devised by Bill James in order to assign a single statistic to a pitcher’s outing. It wasn't the highest-ever Game Score for a Cardinal -- that belongs to Roy Parmelee’s 116 after a 17-inning shutout on April 29, 1936 -- nor was it Gibson’s highest, which came with his 13-inning, one-run, 11-strikeout gem on July 25, 1969.

What’s missing from the number is context, gravity and opponent. That’s why I’m giving Gibson the nod here. The Cardinals legend plowed through the heart of the Tigers’ lineup that day, striking out Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Willie Horton, Jim Northrup and Bill Freehan in order. Four of the five had at least 20 home runs during the pitcher-friendly season, and three of them had at least 84 RBIs. Gibson struck out Kaline three times in Game 1 -- all the more impressive considering that Kaline would go on to hit .379 in the World Series, as Detroit rallied to win in seven games.

Gibson’s performance was dominant, and his record still stands today. In many ways, it’s the most lasting of the best-pitched Cardinals games.

2. , Oct. 7, 2011: Game 5 of the National League Division Series
Key fact: Outdueled Roy Halladay with a shutout to send the Cardinals to the NL Championship Series

If Gibson’s game was the most lasting, perhaps Carpenter’s was the most memorable. What’s at stake is important context in this list, too, and Carpenter pitched that game with the Cardinals’ season on the line. The matchup was a Game 5 duel for the ages: Carpenter vs. Phillies ace Roy Halladay. Halladay was on his game that night, only allowing one run, which came in the first inning when Rafael Furcal tripled and Skip Schumaker hit an RBI double.

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And Carpenter took that 1-0 lead and wouldn’t let go. The Phillies were shut out only seven times all season, and this game was in their home park, where they were shut out just twice after May 22, both coming after they’d clinched first place. Across nine innings, Carpenter struck out three and allowed just three hits. He didn’t walk a batter. He sinkerballed his way to 16 ground-ball outs and pitched himself into the history books.

3. The no-hitters
The pitchers: , Paul Dean, Lon Warneke, Ray Washburn, Gibson, (2), ,

Any time a pitcher no-hits a team, it’s considered a top performance. The Cardinals have had nine no-hitters in their official franchise history; although Ted Breitenstein threw a no-hitter for the Browns of the American Association in 1891, the first recognized no-no for the Cardinals belongs to Haines, who threw his against the Boston Braves on July 17, 1924. The Hall of Famer walked three but was otherwise untouchable in the 5-0 win.

In the second game of the Cardinals’ doubleheader against the Dodgers on Sept. 21, 1934, Paul Dean did what his brother, Dizzy, couldn’t earlier in the day: Completing a no-no by retiring the final 25 batters he faced. Dean walked one and struck out six.

On Aug. 30, 1941, Warneke faced just one batter over the minimum in holding the Reds hitless.

It wasn’t until 1968 that another Cardinal accomplished the feat. Washburn threw a no-hitter on Sept. 18, 1968, just one day after the Giants’ Gaylord Perry no-hit the Cardinals at Candlestick Park.

Gibson followed Washburn three years later, on Aug. 14, 1971, at age 35. It was the only no-hitter of his Hall of Fame career, and he struck out 10 of the 31 Pirates he faced.

Forsch’s first no-hitter came on April 16, 1978, against the Phillies -- the team’s first no-no in St. Louis since 1924.

His second came on Sept. 26, 1983, against the Expos, with just two baserunners allowed on a hit-by-pitch and an error in the second inning.

On June 25, 1999, Jimenez, making the 15th start of his first full season, was nearly flawless -- walking two and hitting a batter -- in outdueling the D-backs' Randy Johnson for the first St. Louis no-hitter in more than 15 years.

And the Cardinals' last no-hitter to date was Bud Smith on Sept. 3, 2001, against the Padres. It was the rookie’s first and only career complete game.

4. Jose DeLeon, Aug. 30, 1989, vs. Reds
Key fact: Allowed one hit and zero runs across 11 innings while only throwing 109 pitches

The Cardinals lost this game, 2-0, in 13 innings, which was a shame considering the performance DeLeon gave. The right-hander was nearly flawless, throwing 11 innings and only allowing one hit. He struck out eight and didn’t walk a batter, all while throwing 109 pitches, 74 for strikes.

DeLeon retired 22 in a row after the lone hit of the game in the top of the fourth inning, and, thanks to a double play, he did face the minimum for 11 innings -- 33 batters.

5. , May 10, 2013, vs. Rockies
Key fact: Highest nine-inning Game Score in Cardinals history (98)

At least by one measure, Miller’s eighth start of his career was the most dominant nine-inning start in Baseball-Reference’s database. The rookie’s one-hit shutout in the Cardinals’ 3-0 win at Busch Stadium earned him a Game Score of 98, the highest nine-inning score in Cardinals history. Miller’s 13 strikeouts were a career high, and he tied the Cardinals’ rookie record for a single-game strikeout total.

The one hit Miller allowed was a broken-bat single to the first batter of the game, Eric Young Jr. Then, Miller retired the next 27 batters, striking out the final two batters he faced. If not for Young’s hit, Miller would have had a perfect game.