In baseball, legends are made in October.
The weather gets colder, the games get more intense, and players get the chance to become heroes. When the pressure's on, they put their teams on their backs to win postseason glory.
Here's a look at the best single-game playoff performances of the millennium:
Halladay felt no pressure pitching in the postseason for the first time in his career—he went out and made history. After already pitching a perfect game during the 2010 season, Halladay completely shut down the Cincinnati Reds lineup in Game 1 of the National League Division Series. The 6’6”, 230-pound pitcher faced 28 batters, walking one and allowing zero hits for the second no-hitter in postseason history and first since Don Larsen threw a perfect game in 1956.
The longtime St. Louis Cardinals star did his best Babe Ruth impression against the Texas Rangers, smashing three home runs and finishing the game with five hits, six RBIs, and one historic performance. Pujols set a World Series record with 14 total bases, and making his game even more incredible: He hit all three home runs over just four innings (the sixth through ninth). As the great ESPN commercial goes: “I’m not a machine, I’m Albert.”
With the World Series tied at three games apiece against the Kansas City Royals and the Giants holding a slim 3-2 lead, San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy called on Madison Bumgarner to close the whole thing out. Bumgarner was only on two days rest, but the 6'5", 250-pound pitcher didn’t care. The mammoth lefty threw five scoreless innings to earn the save and help the Giants win the championship. The North Carolina native won World Series MVP and finished the postseason with a historic 1.13 ERA in 52.2 innings pitched.
Looking to win their first World Series in nearly a decade, the Yankees looked to outfielder Hideki Matsui to get them there—and he delivered. “Godzilla” went 3-for-4 with a home run, double, and six RBIs to help the Yanks win the championship. Matsui earned World Series MVP honors for his performance after hitting for a .615 average with three home runs and eight RBIs during the series.
For the first game of the playoffs for the eventual World Series champions, Tim Lincecum was simply an artist on the mound. “The Freak” mowed down the Atlanta Braves like they were grass under his lawn mower—Lincecum fanned 14 batters on 119 pitches in the complete game shutout while allowing just TWO baserunners for the entire game, a 1-0 victory for the Giants.
No matter what you think of him when it comes to his controversial playing days, Roger Clemens was still one hell of a pitcher during his baseball career. “The Rocket” had one of the most herculean performances in playoff history against the Seattle Mariners in the 2000 American League Championship Series, striking out 15 batters on 138 pitches and allowing just one hit in the 6-0 shutout. The win helped propel the Yankees to a series victory two games later, and a berth in the World Series.
Carlos Beltrán had a playoff performance for the ages in 2004, and he started that off in the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves. With the series tied 2-2 in Game 5, Beltrán took matters into his own hands, going 4-for-5 while hitting two home runs with five RBIs and three runs scored. The blasts gave Beltrán four in the NLDS and helped the Astros win their first playoff series in franchise history.
Beltrán went on to hit .435 with eight home runs, 14 RBIs, and 21 runs scored in the postseason. Here’s Beltrán smacking his historic eighth home run of the playoffs:
Curt Schilling left it all on the field against the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series, which became famous as “The Bloody Sock Game.” The Red Sox had battled back from a 3-0 series deficit against the Yanks, and it was up to Schilling to help continue the historic comeback—but the pitcher was dealing with a serious injury in his right ankle.
Despite the blood soaking through his socks, Schilling stayed on the mound for seven innings—giving up just one run—to push the Red Sox to a 4-2 victory and Game 7. His team took care of the rest before winning the World Series.
When you look up the definition of “clutch” in the dictionary, Freese's performance in Game 6 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers should be there as an example. With the Rangers leading 3-2 in the series, the Cardinals came within one strike of being eliminated—Texas was up 7-5 with two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the ninth—when Freese decided he wanted to stick around a bit longer.
The Cardinals third baseman smashed a triple over outfielder Nelson Cruz, driving in two runs to tie the game and sending it into extra innings. But he wasn’t done yet. With the game tied in the bottom of the 11th inning, Freese blasted a home run to centerfield to force Game 7—a game the Cardinals ultimately won.
Starting on three days' rest for the first time in his career, Josh Beckett pitched the Marlins to a World Series-clinching victory against the New York Yankees. Beckett was masterful on the mound, pitching a complete-game shutout while allowing just five hits and striking out nine batters as a 23-year-old. And while Beckett had some dicey moments—the Yankees had seven at-bats with runners in scoring position—he managed to stymie the Bronx Bombers over and over again, preventing them from getting anyone across home plate.