October brought out the best in Gibson

October 3rd, 2020

There will never be another postseason pitcher like Bob Gibson.

Gibson, who died Friday at the age of 84, was known as a fiery competitor, a hard thrower and the man whose utter dominance in 1968 (1.12 ERA) helped force the lowering of the mound as a response to the “Year of the Pitcher.” He was an MVP, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, a nine-time Gold Glove Award recipient and a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

And then there were his accomplishments in October. It’s been 52 years since Gibson last took the mound for a postseason game, and the sport has changed considerably. Pitcher usage certainly has. For reasons of both health and effectiveness, teams don’t put nearly as much on starters’ shoulders. Just on Friday, Gibson’s Cardinals fell to the Padres in a decisive Game 3 of the National League Wild Card Series, with San Diego using nine pitchers to throw a nine-inning shutout.

However you feel about those changes, one thing is for sure: Gibson’s October exploits are eye-popping. Check out these incredible stats from his postseason career.

• It just so happens that Friday was the 52nd anniversary of a day Gibson made history. In Game 1 of the 1968 World Series against the Tigers at Busch Stadium, he racked up 17 strikeouts -- and just one walk -- while throwing a shutout. Gibson broke Sandy Koufax’s record of 15 strikeouts in a postseason game, and all these years later, none of the strikeout artists that have followed in his footsteps have been able to match that number. It remains a playoff record.

• Finishing what he started was Gibson’s way in the postseason. Just look at his postseason game log, which in the context of the modern game appears to be some sort of optical illusion.

That’s nine starts, eight complete games, two shutouts and an average of nine innings per outing. In postseason history, the only other pitchers with at least eight complete games are Dead Ball Era hurlers Christy Mathewson (10) and Chief Bender (nine), and Red Ruffing (eight), who pitched from 1924-47.

• Gibson reached double-digit strikeouts in five of those complete games, while no other pitcher in history has more than three such performances in the postseason. In fact, since Gibson, there have been a total of two such outings in the World Series: by Randy Johnson in 2001 and Cliff Lee in ’09.

• Gibson pitched in three World Series and started three games in each one. Just consider the burden he shouldered:

1964: Started Game 5 on three days’ rest and Game 7 on two days’ rest, throwing a total of 27 innings in an eight-day span.

1967 and ’68: Started Game 4 and Game 7 on three days’ rest apiece, throwing 27 innings over a nine-day span.

No pitcher since 1968 has thrown three complete games in a single World Series. Only two since then have started multiple games on short rest in the same series: Orel Hershiser (1988) and Tom Glavine (’92). And Gibson is responsible for three of the 19 total instances of a pitcher throwing at least 27 innings in one Fall Classic.

• Gibson authored one of the most overwhelming World Series performances of all time in 1967’s seven-game triumph over the Red Sox, throwing three complete games, including a shutout, and allowing a total of three runs on 14 hits in 27 innings (a 1.00 ERA), with 26 strikeouts. The Cardinals went 1-3 (with a 3.97 ERA) against Boston without Gibson on the mound and 3-0 with him there. Only four pitchers in history have thrown 27 innings in a single World Series with a lower ERA.

• Quite obviously, Gibson was named MVP of that 1967 World Series, after taking the same honor in ’64. He remains one of only three two-time winners, along with Koufax and Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson.

• Gibson very nearly topped himself a year later, in another classic World Series. There was the aforementioned 17-strikeout masterpiece in Game 1, plus another complete-game, 10-strikeout victory in Game 4. Gibson then started Game 7, batting Detroit’s Mickey Lolich to a 0-0 tie through six innings. Gibson got two outs in the seventh before giving up back-to-back singles and then a two-run triple to Jim Northrup on a play in which the Cardinals’ great center fielder, Curt Flood, lost his footing and saw the ball go over his head. Gibson still finished the game, but it was one of only two losses he took in his nine postseason outings.

• Despite that setback, Gibson still set an all-time record with 35 strikeouts in a single postseason series -- breaking his own mark set four years earlier. In fact, Gibson occupies five of the top six spots on that leaderboard.

Most strikeouts in any single postseason series

1) Bob Gibson, 1968 WS: 35
2) Bob Gibson, 1964 WS: 31
3) Sandy Koufax, 1965 WS: 29
4) Bill Dinneen, 1903 WS: 28
T-5) Bob Gibson, 1967 WS: 26
T-5) Curt Schilling, 2001 WS: 26

• Of course, it’s much harder for pitchers today -- dealing with an expanded postseason -- to make it to three World Series in their career, much less start three times in each. So it will be extremely difficult for anyone to approach some of Gibson’s totals in the Fall Classic.

Starts: 9 (T-7th all time)
Innings: 81 (6th)
Complete games: 8 (T-3rd)
Wins: 7 (T-2nd)
Strikeouts: 92 (2nd)