Pitchers with most K's in postseason game

October 19th, 2022

The postseason has always brought out the best from some of the game's best aces. From modern-day greats and to legends Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax, playoff history has been full of dominant games from dominant pitchers.

But it's not just the aces mowing down opposing lineups, striking out hitter after hitter to shut down the strongest lineups in baseball. Brilliant October pitching performances have come from everywhere.

Here are some of the best individual efforts on the mound in playoff history -- the pitchers with the most strikeouts in a postseason game.

1. Bob Gibson, Cardinals: 17 K's
Game 1, 1968 World Series
The opening game of the World Series in 1968 was about as epic a pitching matchup as they come: Gibson, coming off the historic 1.12 ERA season that won him the National League Cy Young Award and the NL MVP Award, against the Tigers' Denny McLain, who swept the same awards in the American League after going 31-6 in baseball's last 30-win season. Gibson won the duel with a stunning masterpiece -- a 17-strikeout shutout that broke Koufax's single-game postseason record set in Game 1 of the 1963 Fall Classic. It was the most strikeouts the St. Louis legend ever recorded in a game, and one of the iconic performances of his career, along with winning Game 1, 4 and 7 of the 1967 World Series against the Red Sox.

2. Kevin Brown, Padres: 16 K's
Game 1, 1998 NL Division Series
In his prime, Brown was one of the top pitchers in baseball, and he was a huge get for the Padres in offseason of 1997. In his first year with San Diego, Brown helped pitch the Padres to the World Series. The right-hander started San Diego's postseason run with a dominant win over Houston on the road in Game 1 of the NLDS -- outpitching none other than Randy Johnson. Brown shut out the Astros for eight innings at the Astrodome, allowing just two hits and striking out 16 (including Jeff Bagwell once and Craig Biggio twice), the most by anyone in a postseason game since Gibson and the Division Series record.

3. (tie) Gerrit Cole, Astros: 15 K's
Game 2, 2019 ALDS

Cole generated a postseason-record 33 swings and misses (since pitching-tracking was implemented in 2008) to lead the Astros to a 3-1 win over Tampa Bay. Cole also extended his MLB record by going 10 straight starts with at least 10 strikeouts to follow up a regular season in which he fanned 326, 11th-most since the mound was lowered in 1969. Only Hall of Famers Randy Johnson and Nolan Ryan have punched out more in a regular season in that stretch.

3. (tie) Roger Clemens, Yankees: 15 K's
Game 4, 2000 ALCS

Clemens pitched 35 playoff games for three franchises in his 24-year career. This one was the best. Facing a Mariners lineup led by superstars Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez, Clemens took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Seattle. He allowed a leadoff double to Al Martin in that inning… and that was it. Clemens finished off a one-hit shutout of the M's, and he tied the LCS record with 15 strikeouts in the process, incluing two of A-Rod and one of Martinez. It was his only career postseason complete game. The Yankees would go on to win the Subway Series World Series over the Mets.

3. (tie) Livan Hernandez, Marlins: 15 K's
Game 5, 1997 NLCS

Hernandez won both the NLCS and the World Series MVP in 1997 as he led the shock-the-world Marlins to the franchise's first championship. The NLCS MVP honors came thanks to this gem against the heavily favored Braves, in which Hernandez outdueled Greg Maddux himself. Maddux threw seven innings of four-hit, two-run, nine-strikeout baseball; Hernandez one-upped him in every way, pitching a one-run complete game, allowing just three hits and striking out an NLCS-record 15, including Chipper Jones twice and Fred McGriff three times.

3. (tie) Mike Mussina, Orioles: 15 K's
Game 3, 1997 ALCS
Hernandez's brilliance against the Braves came just a day after Mussina's against the Indians in the other league's Championship Series. Hernandez threw his on Oct. 12, 1997, Mussina on Oct. 11. Mussina had already pitched two shutdown games against Mariners in the ALDS, and he was even better in the ALCS. The right-hander held a loaded Tribe lineup to one run in seven innings, and he became the first pitcher to strike out 15 in an LCS game. He K'd all the Indians' biggest boppers -- Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Matt Williams and David Justice. But Indians starter Orel Hershiser was lights-out himself, and Baltimore wound up losing the game, 2-1, in 12 innings on Marquis Grissom's walk-off steal of home.

3. (tie) Sandy Koufax, Dodgers: 15 K's
Game 1, 1963 World Series
Koufax, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, had no shortage of iconic performances on the mound. This was one of them, a complete-game 15-strikeout win over the rival Yankees and that put the Dodgers on the road to a World Series sweep. This was the first time New York and Los Angeles teams met in a major sports championship. Game 1 pitted Koufax against Whitey Ford, and Koufax got the better of his fellow Hall of Famer. His 15 strikeouts were at the time MLB's single-game postseason record. Koufax even got Mickey Mantle twice.

8. (tie) Tim Lincecum, Giants: 14 K's
Game 1, 2010 NLDS
The Giants' even-year magic began here, with The Freak taking the mound for his first postseason start. Lincecum had won back-to-back NL Cy Young Awards in 2008 and '09, and he immediately took center stage in October 2010. Lincecum shut out the Braves on two hits in the NLDS opener, racking up 14 strikeouts along the way. It was the first of four playoff games he'd win for the Giants that year, including two in the World Series against the Rangers, one being the clinching Game 5. San Francisco went on to win the World Series in 2010, '12 and '14, with Lincecum pitching in all three Fall Classics.

8. (tie) Mike Scott, Astros: 14 K's
Game 1, 1986 NLCS
Scott was a source of endless frustration for the Mets in the 1986 postseason. The NL Cy Young Award winner, who had thrown a no-hitter in the Astros' NL West division clincher, carried his dominance into the playoffs. The Mets eventually won the NLCS -- and, of course, one of the greatest World Series ever played against the Red Sox -- but Scott was their kryptonite. He beat them twice in the NLCS, including a 14-strikeout, five-hit shutout at the Astrodome in Game 1, a 1-0 win over Mets ace Dwight Gooden. Scott was so good in the series that he was named NLCS MVP despite the Astros' elimination, the first time a player from the losing team won the award.

7. (tie) Mike Boddicker, Orioles: 14 K's
Game 2, 1983 ALCS
The pioneer of the "fosh" pitch -- part splitter, part changeup -- Boddicker was a junkballing righty who broke out with the Orioles in 1983 with a 16-8, 2.77 ERA season. He was even better in the playoffs. Making his postseason debut against the White Sox in the ALCS, Boddicker threw a 140-pitch shutout, racking up 14 strikeouts, including two of Carlton Fisk and three of Harold Baines. The start earned Boddicker ALCS MVP honors. He notched another complete-game win in Game 2 of the World Series against the Phillies as Baltimore took home the championship.

7. (tie) John Candelaria, Pirates: 14 K's
Game 3, 1975 NLCS
Candelaria's first career playoff start was his most impressive -- facing the Big Red Machine, he struck out a then-NLCS record 14 in 7 2/3 innings while allowing only three runs. The eight Reds position players Candelaria faced that day: Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, George Foster, Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey and Cesar Geronimo. A fearsome lineup. But Candelaria started the game by striking out the side in the first inning, and he got every Cincinnati starter at least once except for Foster. Unfortunately, he couldn't hold the lead late, allowing a go-ahead home run to Rose in the eighth inning. Pittsburgh tied the game in the ninth, but the Reds won it in the 10th and went on to sweep the Pirates en route to winning the World Series.

7. (tie) Joe Coleman, Tigers: 14 K's
Game 3, 1972 ALCS
Coleman had one All-Star season in his 15-year career, and it was 1972. The right-hander went 19-14 with a 2.80 ERA and 222 strikeouts, and he was even stronger when he got the ball in Game 3 of the ALCS with Detroit facing elimination against the A's. With the Tigers down two games to none, Coleman pitched them back into the series with a shutout victory, while becoming the first pitcher to strike out 14 in an LCS game. He ended the game by striking out the last two batters he faced, George Hendrick and Matty Alou.

7. (tie) Carl Erskine, Dodgers: 14 K's
Game 3, 1953 World Series
The first pitcher to strike out 14 in a postseason game was Erskine in the 1953 Fall Classic. The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, and they were facing the rival Yankees. The Bronx Bombers were up 2-0 in the series when Erskine took the mound at Ebbets Field. The right-hander tossed a complete game in the Dodgers' 3-2 win, closing out the Yanks after Roy Campanella hit a tiebreaking homer in the bottom of the eighth. Erskine got a rare strikeout of Phil Rizzuto (Rizzuto struck out only 39 times that season) -- but even more impressively, he fanned Mantle four times. The Dodgers didn't win the series, but Erskine's effort in Game 3 was superb.