Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 4/19/12

Last night, Cliff Lee and Matt Cain put on a pitching duel for the ages. Cain threw shutout nine innings on just 91 pitches before Bruce Bochy pinch-hit for him, while Lee managed to go 10 scoreless innings and still only throw 102 pitches on the night. They combined to allow just 10 baserunners in 19 innings pitched, and after Brett Pill‘s leadoff double in the fifth, they put down 24 consecutive batters between them.

You just don’t get two dominating performances in the same game all that often. In fact, you could make a case that this was the best pair of performances in a single game in the last 10 years.

The last time two pitchers faced off and both threw nine inning shutouts was last May, when Jason Vargas and Zach Britton squared off in Baltimore. Both were extremely effective and efficient, but neither of them pitched into the 10th inning, and they only combined for nine strikeouts on the night – plus, even with the offensive struggles SF and PHI have had this year, neither of them can match the 2011 Mariners for futility at the plate, so Britton’s performance is slightly diminished due to the quality of his opponent.

The Phillies were actually involved in another classic pitching duel two years ago, as Roy Halladay and Travis Wood matched zeroes for nine innings before giving way to the bullpens. In fact, Wood was one base hit and a little run support away from a perfect game, so Halladay’s 9 IP/0 R/1 BB/9 K performance was actually the second best outing of the evening. If either Wood or Halladay had pitched into the 10th, this would likely rate ahead of last night’s duel, but given that Lee got three more outs and threw 15 fewer pitches, I have to give the nod – just barely – to the Cain/Lee duel.

Before 2010, MLB hadn’t seen a game where both starters went 9 IP with 0 R allowed since September of 2003, when the Tigers and Blue Jays locked up in a battle between Nate Cornejo and, once again, Roy Halladay. Halladay was awesome, throwing 10 scoreless innings on just 99 pitches and getting 21 ground ball outs in the process. Cornejo was somewhat less awesome, as he gave up five hits and walked a couple of batters while racking up two strikeouts. While any nine inning shutout is impressive in its own way, Cornejo’s doesn’t stack up to what either Cain or Lee did last night.

To find a pair of performances on par with last night’s match-up, we probably have to go back to August 28, 1999, when Kevin Millwood matched up with Darren Oliver. Oliver was excellent, throwing nine scoreless innings, allowing just six baserunners and striking out six batters in the prcoess, but Millwood was even better – 10 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 9 K. More impressively, he did this against a line-up that featured Mark McGwire, Ray Lankford, the good version of Fernando Tatis, J.D. Drew, and Edgar Renteria.

What Cain and Lee did last night was special. You don’t see that kind of pitcher’s duel very often, and there showdown was one of the best in recent history. Hats off to both of them.

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