Players with best postseason performances

These stars enjoyed Octobers that will never be forgotten

January 29th, 2021

Some were already established stars. Some were virtually unknown to the baseball world before instantly becoming household names. But the common thread connecting them all is that they delivered some of the greatest postseason performances in baseball history.

Whether by dominating on the mound or catching fire at the plate, these players cemented their names in baseball lore with outstanding Octobers. Like former Mets infielder Daniel Murphy, who announced his retirement Friday, they created memories that will long outlast their careers.

Here’s a look at the best postseason performances of all-time, listed in reverse chronological order.

Randy Arozarena, Rays -- 2020
Having only played in 42 Major League games before entering the 2020 postseason for the Rays, Arozarena had solid regular-season numbers over that small sample, but was virtually unknown outside of Florida. Then, the 25-year-old outfielder launched 10 home runs to break the previous record of eight for a single postseason, while his 64 total bases smashed the previous record of 50, all while slashing a cool .377/.442/.831. Arozarena's efforts carried the Rays to an American League pennant, and he became the first rookie position player to take MVP honors in a League Championship Series (or World Series), thanks to his performance against the Astros in the ALCS. Arozarena continued to drive Tampa Bay's offense in the Fall Classic, though his team fell just short against the Dodgers and World Series MVP Corey Seager (see below).

Top moment: After Houston won three straight to force a winner-take-all Game 7 in that ALCS, Arozarena's first-inning, two-run homer set the stage for a 4-2, pennant-clinching victory.

Corey Seager, Dodgers -- 2020
If it weren’t for Arozarena, Seager’s output would have been even more attention grabbing. Seager batted .328 and slugged .746 over the Dodgers’ 18-game run to their first championship since 1988. Seager’s eight home runs and 50 total bases are both tied for second in a single postseason, behind only Arozarena. His 20 RBIs finished behind only David Freese’s 21 from 2011. Seager put together three games with at least three hits and three with three-plus RBIs while being named the MVP of both the NLCS and World Series.

Top moment: The Dodgers trailed Atlanta 3-1 in the NLCS when Seager homered twice to help the club win Game 5 and ignite a comeback that took it to the World Series.

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals -- 2019
October 2019 was not the first time Strasburg had pitched brilliantly in the playoffs (his seven shutout innings against the Cubs while battling the flu in the 2017 NLDS comes to mind), but in this instance he brought his very best to the mound while the rest of the Nationals behind him finally did the same. Strasburg’s incredible month began with three scoreless innings of relief in the NL Wild Card Game, followed by five more starts in which he earned four wins and never allowed more than three runs. Strasburg finished the month 5-0, making him the first pitcher to win that many games without a loss in a single postseason. He also struck out 47 batters, tying him for the second most in a postseason.

Top moment: After the Nationals squandered a 2-0 World Series lead with three straight home losses against the Astros, Strasburg held Houston to two runs across 8 1/3 innings to help Washington claim a win-or-go-home Game 6. The Nationals beat the Astros again in Game 7, and Strasburg was named Series MVP.

Andrew Miller, Indians -- 2016
Miller put the “ace” in the term “relief ace” for the Tribe in 2016, both in the regular season and
then in October. After making 70 appearances over which he posted a 1.45 ERA and struck out 45 percent of the batters he faced, Miller didn’t miss a beat in the playoffs, appearing in 10 games and striking out 30 of the 73 batters he faced (41 percent) while posting a 1.40 ERA to help Cleveland win the AL pennant. Miller was named MVP of the five-game ALCS against the Blue Jays.

Top moment: Miller struck out five of six batters faced in two perfect innings from the seventh through the eighth, preserving a 2-1 Cleveland lead over Toronto in 2016 ALCS Game 2.

Daniel Murphy, Mets -- 2015
Murphy was a revelation for the Mets during the 2015 postseason, going from a .755 career OPS in the regular season, with an average of nine homers a year, to a one-man wrecking crew in October. In the NLCS against the Cubs, Murphy hit .529 with four home runs before being named MVP of the series. And that came after he hit .333 with three homers in the NLDS against the Dodgers. Murphy’s seven postseason home runs were half the number of home runs he hit during the entire regular season in 2015. Overall that postseason, Murphy posted a 1.115 OPS with 11 RBIs.

Top moment: A 4-for-5 performance in Mets’ pennant-clinching victory over Cubs in 2015 NLCS Game 4, which included a two-run homer in the seventh inning that marked a record sixth consecutive game Murphy had homered in during that postseason.

Madison Bumgarner, Giants -- 2014
Bumgarner’s October 2014 will rank among the most heroic pitching performances that many of us will see in our lifetimes. The Giants’ workhorse went at least seven innings in each of his six starts, allowing no more than three runs in any of them and including two shutouts in that mix -- one in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game against the Pirates, and another against the Royals in World Series Game 5. That set the stage for Game 7 three nights later, when manager Bruce Bochy turned to his ace one more time on short rest to protect a 3-2 lead. Bumgarner did just that, shutting the door with five scoreless innings and stranding Kansas City’s game-tying run on third base to close out the ninth.

Top moment: It’s undoubtedly that World Series Game 7, which saw Bumgarner shut the door for five innings to earn the longest save in postseason history. Bumgarner finished the Series with a 0.43 ERA (one earned run in 21 innings).

Koji Uehara, Red Sox -- 2013
Uehara was nearly untouchable for the indefatigable 2013 Red Sox during the regular season (1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP), and he kept on rolling right through October. The Japanese star made 13 postseason appearances and struck out 16 hitters without issuing a single walk. Uehara’s postseason totals were somehow even more dominant than his regular season: A 0.66 ERA, 0.51 WHIP and .152 opponent batting average.

Uehara earned seven saves along the way and also finished off the Red Sox’s 6-1 victory over the Cardinals in the decisive World Series Game 6. And don’t forget his pickoff throw that caught St. Louis’ Kolten Wong and ended the Cardinals’ night in Game 4 of that Fall Classic.

Top moment: Boston summoned Uehara for five of its six games against the Tigers in the 2013 ALCS, and their star reliever was absolutely lights out. He picked up three saves and a win without permitting a single run across six innings of work, earning himself ALCS MVP honors.

David Freese, Cardinals -- 2011
Freese, who went to high school and community college in the St. Louis area, is one of the brightest examples of a player coming up big for his hometown team. The third baseman simply came up huge when the Cardinals needed him most. He drove in four runs in a win-or-go-home scenario against the Phillies in NLDS Game 4, then exploded in the NLCS, batting .545 (12-for-22) with three homers and nine RBIs to drive the Cardinals past the Brewers in six games and earn NLCS honors.

But somehow all of that was just a preamble to Freese’s heroics against Texas in the World Series. He notched hits in each of the first three contests, running up his postseason hitting streak to 13 games before it was snapped in Game 4. Then in Game 6, Freese played hero twice, belting a game-tying triple with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and a walk-off homer in the 11th -- each of those hits coming with two strikes. Freese still wasn’t done, beginning Game 7 with a two-run double as the Cardinals rallied back from the edge to beat the Rangers in one of the most dramatic World Series in history. Freese’s 21 RBIs across October 2011 set a single-postseason record, and he became the sixth player to be named MVP of both the LCS and World Series rounds.

Top moment: No need to overthink this. Freese saved the Cardinals with his two-run triple as their season was down to its final strike in the ninth inning of World Series Game 6, and then he joined Carlton Fisk and Kirby Puckett as the only players to hit an extra-inning, walk-off homer with their team facing World Series elimination.

Carlos Beltrán, Astros -- 2004
The Astros acquired Beltrán from the Royals as part of a three-team trade in June of 2004, and the 27-year-old outfielder delivered 23 homers over the season's final 90 games to help Houston reach the postseason. Once there, Beltrán hit .435 with an MLB-record-tying eight home runs -- he joined Barry Bonds, who smashed eight homers in 2002, but did so in 17 games to Beltrán’s 12. Nelson Cruz later joined the club, launching eight homers in 2011 for the Rangers. Beltrán’s peak in October 2004 came from NLDS Game 5 vs. the Braves on Oct. 11, through NLCS Game 4 vs. the Cardinals on Oct. 17, a period in which he hit .611 with five of his eight postseason homers.

Top moment: Beltrán’s go-ahead home run in seventh inning of 2004 NLCS Game 4 against the Cardinals -- his fifth straight game with a homer -- lifted the Astros to a 6-5 victory.

David Ortiz, Red Sox -- 2004
Ortiz had already enjoyed a pair of massive seasons after coming over to the Red Sox via free agency before the 2003 campaign, but the legend of “Big Papi, postseason hero” was solidified forever (and further built upon later) in October 2004. It began with a series-clinching, walk-off homer against Angels pitcher Jarrod Washburn in the 10th inning of ALDS Game 3, sending Boston on to an ALCS rematch against the hated Yankees (who had broken Boston’s hearts a year before).

After the Red Sox fell behind, three games to none, it appeared the Bronx Bombers were going to get the last laugh again. But Ortiz put his team on his shoulders, belting a walk-off homer in the 12th inning of Game 4 and then a walk-off single in the 14th inning of Game 5 and leading Boston to the first rally from a 3-0 postseason series deficit in history. Ortiz took home ALCS MVP honors and then stayed hot in the World Series, clubbing a three-run homer against the Cardinals in the first inning of Game 1 to set the tone for the Red Sox’s first world championship in 86 years.

Top moment: Ortiz’s game-winning hits in back-to-back nights in ALCS Games 4 and 5 gave him three walk-off hits in October 2004 alone, setting the career record for most postseason walk-off hits until Astros shortstop Carlos Correa tied him in 2020.

Josh Beckett, Marlins -- 2003
Taken with the second overall pick of the MLB Draft just four years prior, the 23-year-old Beckett pitched like a seasoned veteran for the underdog Marlins. The Cubs knocked Beckett around in NLCS Game 1 with six runs off the right-hander, but he recovered to twirl an 11-strikeout shoutout in a win-or-go-home Game 5 and then came out of the bullpen on two days’ rest to throw four scoreless innings of one-run ball in the decisive Game 7.

After racking up 10 more strikeouts in a tough-luck loss to the Yankees in World Series Game 3, Beckett rallied again to record one of the more impressive pitching nights in recent memory: a nine-strikeout, five-hit shutout as a visitor at hallowed Yankee Stadium that helped Florida clinch the franchise’s second world championship.

Top moment: Beckett made himself a household name after that shutout in World Series Game 6, which came on just three days’ rest. He became the youngest pitcher since Royals righty Bret Saberhagen (21 years old, 1985) to win a World Series clincher.

Barry Bonds, Giants -- 2002
The Giants ultimately fell one game short of the World Series title, but Bonds couldn’t have done much more in search of his first ring. Fresh off his record 73-homer regular season a year before, Bonds went deep three times in San Francisco’s five-game triumph over Atlanta in the NLDS to set the tone. He followed with another homer and six RBIs while also walking in nearly half of his plate appearances in the Giants’ five-game NLCS victory over the Cardinals.

The Angels entered the 2002 World Series knowing clearly that they couldn’t let Bonds beat them, but he got his dingers in anyway. Bonds went deep four times and finished the Fall Classic hitting .471 with a 1.994 OPS. But the Giants blew a late lead in Game 6 and watched the Angels finish the job at home in Game 7.

Top moment: Bonds’ four World Series dingers included one of the longest ever seen in the ninth inning of Game 2. Bonds hit the ball so high and so far that the camera seemed to lose track of it, bringing the Giants to within a run in a game they eventually lost, 11-10.

Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, D-backs -- 2001
It takes a team effort to win in October, but Schilling and Johnson were the closest to a “two-man team" that’s ever been seen in the postseason. Arizona’s co-aces accounted for nearly 60% of the team’s innings pitched in October 2001, and they combined to go 9-1 with a 1.30 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 89 2/3 innings of work. Schilling didn’t allow more than two runs in any of his six starts, racking up a single-postseason record 56 strikeouts. Johnson’s 47 strikeouts are tied for the second most in one postseason, and his six appearances included a shutout apiece in the NLCS and World Series rounds.

Top moment: In one of the most memorable World Series contests in history in the decisive Game 7 against the Yankees, it was only fitting that Schilling and Johnson carried the D-backs to the finish line. Schilling dueled Roger Clemens with 7 1/3 innings of two-run ball, and after Miguel Batista recorded an out in the eighth, Johnson took over with 1 1/3 perfect innings of relief -- just one night after he started Game 6. Johnson’s winning effort out of the bullpen kept Arizona alive long enough for Luis Gonzalez’s Series-winning walk-off hit in the ninth against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera.

Jack Morris, Twins -- 1991
Morris had already established himself as a big-game pitcher with a pair of wins for the Tigers in the 1984 World Series, but October ‘91 solidified that reputation for good. Morris won each of his four decisions for Minnesota that postseason, with a pair of victories each in the ALCS against the Blue Jays and in the World Series against the Braves. He finished the month with a 2.23 ERA across 36 1/3 innings of work for the world champions.

Top moment: We’re burying the lede, of course, because Morris’ final victory of 1991 ranks among the greatest pitching performances in history. Pitching on three days’ rest in the decisive Game 7, Morris outdueled Atlanta’s John Smoltz with a 10-inning shutout, keeping the Braves at bay long enough for Gene Larkin’s title-winning, walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th. It remains the longest shutout recorded in a winner-take-all postseason game.

Billy Hatcher, Reds -- 1990
The Reds probably weren’t the champion pick for many, even after they captured the 1990 NL West division title, but they pulled off back-to-back upsets of the Pirates and A’s with Hatcher leading the way. Having just arrived to Cincinnati in April via a trade with Pittsburgh, Hatcher became a Queen City hero with an extraordinarily hot bat in October, finishing the ‘90 postseason with a .519 average and 1.456 OPS across eight games. That includes World Series records for both average (.750, 9-for-12) and OBP (.800) that stand to this day.

Top moment: Hatcher went 4-for-4 with two doubles and a triple in the Reds’ 10-inning win over the A’s in World Series Game 2, a victory that turned the tide in Cincinnati’s favor for good. Those four hits made Hatcher an incredible 7-for-7 to begin the Fall Classic after he went 3-for-3 with a walk in Game 1.

Orel Hershiser, Dodgers -- 1988
Hershiser’s year for the ages began in the regular season when he strung together 59 consecutive innings without allowing a run, breaking the all-time record set by fellow Dodgers legend Don Drysdale. That streak, which helped Hershiser capture the NL Cy Young Award, ran through the Dodgers’ final game of the regular season, and Hershiser never let his foot off the gas in October. “Bulldog” captured NLCS honors after starting Games 1 and 3, coming out of the bullpen on zero days’ rest in the 12th inning of Game 4 to get a one-out save and then shutting out the favored Mets on two days’ rest in Game 7. Hershiser tossed another shutout on three days’ rest in World Series Game 2, and then finished off the mighty A’s with a complete-game, two-run effort in Game 5.

Top moment: The Dodgers were out of pitchers and looking to avoid falling behind, three games to one, to the Mets in the 12th inning of NLCS Game 4. Manager Tommy Lasorda called on Hershiser -- who had just pitched seven innings the day before -- to face righty Kevin McReynolds. Hershiser retired McReynolds on a broken-bat fly to center field.

Willie Stargell, Pirates -- 1979
Well past his 39th birthday, Stargell proved he had plenty of “Pops” left in his bat with one more massive season in 1979. Stargell slugged .552 with 32 homers in the regular season to take home the NL MVP Award, and then kept on going with a pair of homers (including a go-ahead, three-run shot in the 11th inning of Game 1) and six RBIs in the Pirates’ three-game NLCS sweep of the Reds. Pittsburgh’s beloved leader homered three more times and drove in seven runs in the World Series, helping the “We Are Family” Pirates rally from a 3-1 deficit against the Orioles to win the championship in seven games.

Top moment: With everything on the line in World Series Game 7, Stargell took the lead with four hits in five at-bats -- including the key go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth inning. He became the first player to win the regular-season, LCS and World Series MVP awards in the same season.

Reggie Jackson, Yankees -- 1978
No, we’re not going with Mr. October’s 1977 postseason that included his five World Series homers -- but stay with us here. Jackson went just 4-for-25 with no homers and two RBIs across his first eight games of the ‘77 postseason before going deep in each of his last three contests against the Dodgers (including, of course, three homers on three swings in the decisive World Series Game 6).

Meanwhile, Jackson was hot from start to finish in the next postseason that followed the tumultuous “Bronx Zoo” regular season. He finished October 1978 with a .417 average, four more dingers and 14 RBIs across 10 games for the back-to-back champion Yankees, setting the tone with a homer in ALCS Game 1 against the Royals and ending the season with another homer against the Dodgers in the decisive World Series Game 6.

Top moment: Dodgers rookie reliever Bob Welch delivered a key moment early in the 1978 World Series when he struck out Jackson with two men on base in the ninth inning of Game 2. But Jackson got his revenge against Welch in Game 6, walloping a two-run homer that finished off a Series-clinching, 7-2 victory.

Bob Gibson, Cardinals and Mickey Lolich, Tigers -- 1968
The year 1968 is known as the “Year of the Pitcher,” and no pitcher was better in 1968 than Gibson, who posted a Live Ball Era-record 1.12 ERA with 13 shutouts over 304 2/3 innings during the regular season before continuing his utter domination on the mound in the postseason. By this time a World Series legend, having won with St. Louis in 1964 and ’67, when he was named World Series MVP, Gibson would outdo himself in ’68, though in a losing cause. In Game 1 against the Tigers, he set a postseason record by striking out 17 batters in a 4-0 shutout. Overall, Gibson finished with a 1.67 ERA over three World Series starts that October, striking out 35 and walking four over 27 innings.

(An honorable mention here has to go to Gibson’s teammate, Lou Brock, who helped Gibson and the Cardinals win the 1967 World Series (.414) and then was perhaps even better in ‘68 (.464), when he tied his own record with seven stolen bases.)

Meanwhile, Lolich wasn’t even the most celebrated pitcher on his own team during the 1968 regular season; instead it was Denny McLain, still the Majors’ most recent pitcher to win 30 games in a single year. But Lolich matched Gibson pitch for pitch in the World Series, equaling Gibson’s 1.67 ERA and winning all three of his starts including the decisive Game 7.

Top moments: Gibson struck out an MLB postseason-record 17 batters in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series against the Tigers, but Lolich got the last laugh in Game 7, outdueling the mighty Gibson with his third complete-game victory.

Sandy Koufax, Dodgers -- 1965
Koufax, considered by many to be the best left-handed pitcher in baseball history, was the MVP of the 1963 World Series, but had his signature postseason in ’65. He started Game 2, Game 5 and Game 7 of that Fall Classic against the Twins, tossing 18 scoreless innings over those last two outings and finishing with a 0.38 ERA, 29 strikeouts and five walks in 24 innings overall. In the title-clinching Game 7, Koufax threw a three-hit shutout while walking three and striking out 10 before being named World Series MVP for the second time in his illustrious career.

Top moment: Koufax’s strikeout of Twins outfielder Bob Allison to end the 1965 World Series with a 1-0 Dodgers victory in Game 7

Hank Aaron and Lew Burdette, Braves -- 1957
Hammerin’ Hank only got three cracks at the postseason across his 23 big league seasons, but he made the most of his first opportunity in the 1957 World Series. Aaron homered three times, including a three-run shot that gave the Braves a lead in Game 4, drove in seven runs and batted .393.

While Aaron supplied the offense, Burdette took care of the mighty Yankees attack. The right-hander completed and won all three of his starts, including shutouts in Games 5 and 7, to help Milwaukee shock the Bronx Bombers.

Top moments: Burdette twirled his second shutout in the span of four days in the decisive World Series Game 7, stranding eight Yankee baserunners to finish the Fall Classic with a 0.67 ERA (two earned runs in 27 innings) across his three starts. Aaron went 2-for-5 and drove in Eddie Mathews with a third-inning single in the winning effort.

Yogi Berra, Yankees -- 1956
There’s plenty to choose from with Berra, considering that he contributed to 10 different World Series-champion clubs, but the catcher’s performance in the 1956 Fall Classic was likely his best. Berra finished the Yankees’ seven-game triumph over the Dodgers with a .360/.448/.800 slash line, homered three times and drove home a then-Series record 10 runs for the pinstripes. And, of course, Berra was behind the plate calling all 27 outs of Don Larsen’s perfect game -- still the only perfecto in World Series play -- memorably jumping into Larsen’s arms after the final batter struck out.

Top moment: After a hard-fought, back-and-forth series across the first six games, the Yankees won a 9-0 laugher in Game 7. That was thanks in large part to two homers by Berra, who went deep in the first and third innings off Don Newcombe, the Dodgers’ NL Cy Young and MVP Award winner.

Lou Gehrig, Yankees -- 1928
Gehrig’s 2.433 OPS (no, that’s not a misprint) in the 1928 World Series remains the standard as the highest by any full-time player in a single Fall Classic. It’s true that Gehrig’s four games played (courtesy of the Yankees’ sweep of the Cardinals) are fewer than any other position player on this list, but he didn’t need many games to do damage, homering four times, driving in nine runs and reaching base in 12 of his 17 plate appearances.

As was the case throughout the first years of Gehrig’s brilliant career, he was likely overshadowed in this Series by Babe Ruth, who homered three times in Game 4 and finished with a .625 average. But it was Gehrig who finished with higher on-base and slugging percentages.

Top moment: Gehrig enjoyed a perfect afternoon in Game 3 at St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park. He homered to lead off the second inning, motored around for a two-run, inside-the-park homer in the fourth and then walked in the sixth and seventh frames.

Stan Coveleski, Indians -- 1920
A product of the Pennsylvania coal mines and a masterful purveyor of the spitball, Coveleski is one of only nine pitchers to win three games in a single World Series -- and he was dominant in all of them. Coveleski powered the Indians to wins over the Dodgers in Games 1, 4 and 7, going the distance in each of those starts while allowing just two combined runs across 27 innings (0.67 ERA).

Top moment: Coveleski came back on two days’ rest to take the ball in Game 7 and tossed a five-hit shutout (needing just one strikeout to get the job done) as the Indians captured their first World Series championship.

Christy Mathewson, Giants -- 1905
It's probably not possible to pitch any better in a World Series than the standard Mathewson set more than a century ago. The Majors’ first modern-era star pitcher became an October legend by authoring three shutouts in the span of six days against the Philadelphia A’s. Mathewson’s staggering totals for the series: 27 innings, 13 hits allowed, 18 strikeouts, one walk and zero runs.

Top moment: How does one choose between three World Series shutouts? It’s a true toss-up, but Mathewson climbed back onto the hill for the decisive Game 5, remarkably, on just one day's rest.