The best and worst short-rest playoff starts

October 18th, 2022

Postseason history is packed with heroic starts on limited rest. Think Sandy Koufax finishing off the 1965 World Series, Mickey Lolich outdueling Bob Gibson in the ‘68 Fall Classic or Jack Morris’ instant-classic, 10-inning shutout in ‘91.

But the trend in recent Octobers has not been so positive, with some starters running out of gas or simply not getting the job done when called upon to do something to which they aren't accustomed.

In that context, it was all the more impressive that Yankees left-hander Nestor Cortes was so effective on Tuesday night in Game 5 of the AL Division Series against the Guardians at Yankee Stadium. Given the opportunity to pitch in the win-or-go-home game after Monday's rainout, Cortes took the ball on three days of rest after his five-inning outing in Game 2. He was actually better the second time around, limiting Cleveland to one run on three hits while navigating through five innings on an efficient 61 pitches. Cortes got the win in a 5-1 victory that sent the Yankees on to the AL Championship Series.

Prior to Cortes, here's a look at five recent short-rest successes and failures from the Wild Card Era (since 1995). For successes, the focus is on pitchers whose teams went on to win the series, and ultimately the World Series. Failures are focused on late-series contests in which plenty was on the line.


David Price (BOS), 2018 ALCS Game 5 (4-1 win at Astros)
Box score line: 6 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 9 K, 0 BB

Not only did Price’s series-clinching win come on three days’ rest; it exorcised an enormous amount of October demons for Boston's ace. Price had suffered 11 consecutive postseason starts without a victory, and that was a stat he seemingly couldn’t escape -- especially after struggling in his first two outings of the 2018 postseason. But that was before he rolled through the Astros’ potent lineup in Game 5 of the ALCS, allowing just three baserunners over six brilliant innings to punch the Red Sox’s ticket to their eventual World Series triumph.

"I don't have to prepare myself for [that question] in Spring Training on Feb. 20,” said a relieved Price postgame, “or when September rolls around and I've still got five regular-season starts, I don't have to answer that question anymore."

Josh Beckett (FLA), 2003 World Series Game 6 (2-0 win at Yankees)
Box score line: 9 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 9 K, 2 BB

The Yankees entered the 2003 season with a Major League-leading $152.8 million payroll. The Marlins’ payroll totaled just $49 million. But Florida had Beckett in the World Series, and that proved to be a huge difference-maker. At just 23 years old, Beckett shone in the biggest spotlight, submitting two clutch appearances against the Cubs in the National League Championship Series and then striking out 10 in a losing effort in Game 3 of the Fall Classic. But Beckett saved his best for last on three days’ rest in the decisive Game 6, shutting out -- and, frankly, stunning -- the Bronx Bombers with a 107-pitch gem at Yankee Stadium.

Marlins manager Jack McKeon opted for Beckett on short rest instead of Mark Redman, who had struggled in Game 2. Beckett rewarded his skipper with the first shutout in the final game of the World Series since Morris in 1991. Beckett tagged Jorge Posada for the last out of the game, symbolizing his complete dominance in the clincher.

Curt Schilling (ARI), 2001 World Series Game 7 (3-2 ND vs. Yankees)
Box score line: 7 1/3 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 9 K, 0 BB

Randy Johnson is probably remembered more for his four-out save later in this contest after he had started Game 6. But don’t sleep on Schilling keeping the Yankees scoreless right up until Tino Martinez’s RBI single in the seventh. Pitching on three days’ rest for the second straight time (he had done the same with seven innings of one-run ball in Game 4), Schilling allowed just one New York hit and faced the minimum through the first six innings. He ultimately departed in the eighth, after Alfonso Soriano briefly put the pinstripes ahead with a solo homer, but Schilling's teammates were able to rally against Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the ninth.

Livan Hernandez (FLA), 1997 NLCS Game 5 (2-1 win vs. Braves)
Box score line: 9 IP, 1 ER, 3 H, 15 K, 2 BB

Home-plate umpire Eric Gregg’s lenient strike zone is often associated with this game, but 15 strikeouts in an LCS outing -- especially against a 101-win Braves team -- is impressive regardless. What you might not remember about Hernandez’s performance: He started the game with just one day of rest, having earned the win in Game 3 with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. Those 15 punchouts were the most Hernandez tallied in any outing of his 17-year career (his closest in any other game was 11), and the 143 pitches he threw remain the second most in any Wild Card-era postseason game behind David Cone's 147 in Game 5 of the 1995 AL Division Series. Generous strike zone or not, this was an immense effort by the then 22-year-old Cuban native.

Andy Pettitte (NYY), 1996 World Series Game 5 (1-0 win vs. Braves)
Box score line: 8 1/3 IP, 0 ER, 5 H, 4 K, 3 BB

Pettitte finished as the winningest postseason pitcher in history, but it was hard to know that at this early juncture of his career -- especially after he submitted a seven-run, seven-out clunker in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series at Yankee Stadium. But perhaps Pettitte just needed the ball back. On three days’ rest, he returned with a vengeance in the Game 5, keeping the Braves off the scoreboard into the ninth when he finally handed the ball to John Wetteland for the save.

Pettitte needed to be as dominant as he was; Braves starter John Smoltz permitted just one run to the Yanks, and it was unearned after Charlie Hayes reached on an error and came around to score on a Cecil Fielder double in the fourth. From that point on, it was zeroes for both sides.


Trevor Bauer (CLE), 2017 ALDS Game 4 (7-3 loss vs. NYY)
Box score line: 1.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 3 K

The Indians had built a 2-0 lead in the series, in part because Bauer pitched a gem in Game 1, throwing 6 2/3 scoreless innings in Cleveland. But after the Yankees survived in Game 3 back in the Bronx, manager Terry Francona looked to Bauer to close things out in hostile territory on three days’ rest. Things were far different this time. After a clean first inning, Bauer couldn’t make it through the second. A patient New York lineup quickly ran up his pitch count and tagged him for four hits and four runs -- albeit each was unearned due to an error early in the frame. With Bauer gone early, the Yanks scratched out three more runs against the Indians' bullpen, then completed the series comeback in Game 5 back in Cleveland.

Josh Tomlin (CLE), 2016 World Series Game 6 (9-3 loss to CHC)
Box score line: 2.1 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, 0 K

With Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar sustaining injuries in September, the Indians were short on starting pitching and used Bauer, Corey Kluber and Tomlin in 14 of their 15 October games. It nearly worked. Tomlin had been solid for Cleveland in each of his first three outings that postseason, including in a 1-0 win over the Cubs in Game 3 of the World Series. But with the Indians on the verge of a championship in Game 6, Tomlin came back on three days’ rest and allowed three runs in the first -- one on a Kris Bryant homer. Tomlin left the game with the bases loaded and one out in the third, then watched all three runners score on Addison Russell’s grand slam off Dan Otero as Chicago took a 7-0 lead. One night later, it was the Cubs ending a title drought in dramatic fashion.

Kevin Brown (NYY), 2004 ALCS Game 7 (10-3 loss to BOS)
Box score line: 1.1 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 1 K

A rainout earlier in the series meant that the final five games were played without a break. That led to Brown -- who sustained a broken non-pitching hand from punching a clubhouse wall that September -- starting Game 7 on short rest after a tough outing in the Yankees’ Game 3 slugfest victory (two innings, four runs). By Game 7, the Yanks were reeling from three straight losses to the Red Sox, who roared back from the brink of elimination. Brown couldn’t stop the bleeding, allowing a two-run homer to David Ortiz in the first inning and leaving with the bases loaded and one out in the second before reliever Javier Vazquez served up a grand slam to Johnny Damon. Meanwhile, Boston's Derek Lowe started on only two days' rest and easily out-pitched Brown, allowing just one run in six innings. The rout was on, and Boston advanced past its archrival and into the World Series.

Al Leiter (NYM), 1999 NLCS Game 6 (10-9 loss to ATL)
Box score line: 0 IP, 2 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 1 BB, 0 K

Leiter took a tough-luck loss in a Game 3 pitchers' duel against Tom Glavine, as the Mets fell into a 3-0 hole. When two straight wins got New York back into the series, Leiter came back on short rest in Game 6. That plan lasted for just six batters, all of whom reached base. After Eddie Perez’s two-run single put the Braves ahead 4-0, Leiter exited and watched one more run score on a sacrifice fly. The Mets actually came back to take the lead multiple times, but eventually ran out of gas and lost in 11 innings.

Todd Stottlemyre (STL), 1996 NLCS Game 5 (14-0 loss to ATL)
Box score line: 1+ IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 0 BB, 1 K

Stottlemyre won both of his first two starts that postseason, beating Greg Maddux in Game 2 of the NLCS to help the Cardinals build a 3-1 series lead. Manager Tony La Russa then brought Stottlemyre back on three days’ rest to try to close things out in Game 5 at Busch Stadium. Things went wrong immediately, with the first four Braves batters recording a hit to spur a five-run inning. Stottlemyre was pulled after giving up three more hits to begin the second and is one of three starters in postseason history to allow seven earned runs while recording no more than three outs (all three did so on short rest). After blowing out St. Louis in Game 5, Atlanta came back to win the series.