When Madison Bumgarner shut the door on the Kansas City Royals in Game 7 of the World Series, I called it one of the most brilliant baseball moves and performances of all time. Bumgarner’s entire postseason as a whole may be the best ever.
And with Pedro Martinez’s recent induction in the Hall of Fame, I got a chance to relive his career and watch his relief performance in the 1999 ALDS — a performance that could have cost him his career. It was the cherry on top to one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time.
Since then I have debated which relief performance was more impressive. Which would be the greatest of all time. I ended up with the conclusion that they are 1A and 1B — but Martinez’s performance being 1A. I posed this question on Twitter and had a healthy debate as why Bumgarner’s appearance should be higher. I will now defend my stance.
But before we begin, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane.
Elimination game. Check.
On the road. Check.
Those are two major elements to this argument. Both pitchers faced the daunting task of an elimination game on the road. When the pressure is on, these two delivered. The difference here, and is what many Bumgarner supporters told me, is that the stage was bigger for the Giants lefty. It’s true. Game 7 of the World Series is a bigger stage than Game 5 of the ALDS. It’s hard to argue that even though both games were elimination games, the pressure of winning a World Series weighs much heavier.
The Indians of 1999 was one of the game’s strongest offenses of that era; they scored eight runs in the first three innings of this game. We don’t know which players were juiced during this steroid era, but regardless, the Indians lineup was dangerous with the likes of Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Roberto Alomar and company. The Indians led the league in runs per game (6.23 versus the league average of 5.08). The Indians were the only team with over 1,000 runs scored that season and was second best in batting average at .289. Their strikeout rate was above the league average but made for it with over 200 home runs as a team.
The Royals lineup Bumgarner faced was playing better than their regular season stats indicated. However, the team itself was just slightly below the league average that season in runs per game (4.02 to the league’s 4.07). The Royals scored 651 runs during the regular season. They had the fourth best batting average throughout baseball (.263) and the only team to not have at least 1,000 strikeouts — but they were dead last in home runs with only 95. The offense wasn’t a juggernaut, but it was very disciplined and it carried them to the World Series. When they got on base, they were dangerous, leading the league with 153 stolen bases.
In the middle of the steroid era, this Indians team was a tougher lineup to shut down.
THE BOX SCORE
Bumgarner entered the game protecting a 3-2 lead. He would not allow a run in his relief appearance.
Bumgarner’s line: 5 IP, 2 H, 4 K, 0 BB
This was very impressive. Not allowing a walk and only surrendering two hits out the bullpen in Game 7 is outstanding.
Martinez entered the game with the game tied 8-8. He would not allow a hit in his relief appearance.
Martinez’s line: 6 IP, 0 H, 8 K, 3 BB
This performance is one of the greatest moments in Martinez’s Hall of Fame career.
What makes Bumgarner’s appearance so impressive was that he came into Game 7 on short rest (and having started six games in the postseason prior). Bumgarner threw a complete game three days earlier in Game 5. Having him pitch maybe one or two innings was probably what we all expected. Instead Bumgarner was electric and threw five shutout innings. Bumgarner has only made three relief appearances in his career prior to Game 7 and they were all during his rookie year in 2009. Coming out of the pen on short rest to win the World Series is legendary.
Martinez’s situation is also very unique. Game 5 was supposed to be his start, but a back injury suffered in Game 1 forced him to miss the start. Martinez’s lat injury and this performance triggered shoulder problems that would plague him later in his career, he claims. Coming into the game with a back injury was a risk and he was supposed to only pitch two innings at most. He went six no-hit innings without his fastball and slider; the curveball was his savior that night.
Both men gave performances that will forever live in the history books of baseball. I could view these two as 1A and 1B in greatest relief appearances of all time. But looking at it close, I give Martinez the edge. But not by much.