There are countless memorable plays, pitches, and at-bats in baseball postseason history. However, there are a select few legends who made it a habit of creating these moments when the stakes are at their highest. Here’s a look at the greatest MLB postseason performers of all time.
Although he didn’t play in his first postseason until his 7th season, Beltran made a habit of turning it on in October. During his first postseason run with the Astros in 2004 –where he hit .435 overall— Beltran tied the record for most home runs in a postseason series with eight, while setting a record by homering in five consecutive playoff games. Overall, in 65 postseason games, Beltran produced a 1.021 OPS with 16 home runs.
There is no bigger winner in baseball history than Berra, who won 10 of the 14 World Series he played in during his 19-year career. He was the link between the eras of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle in the Bronx, and behind the plate for Don Larsen’s perfect game during the 1956 Series. Overall, Berra played in 75 World Series games, connecting for 12 home runs, 10 doubles, and hit over .300 in five separate postseason series.
A somewhat underrated October performer even his own time, Berkman is second all-time in Championship win probably added, with an 82.4 mark over 224 plate appearances. Over 5 postseason games divided between the Astros, Cardinals, and Yankees, Berkman produced a .317/.417/.949 slash line. His biggest playoff showing came in the 2011 World Series when he hit .423 and produced a series-saving, extra innings single to keep the Cardinals alive and set the table for an eventual walk-off Cardinal win the following inning.
Of the nine postseason series in his career, Brett hit better than .340 in five of them. He was named ALCS MVP in 1985, when he turned in a .348 average, with three home runs, two doubles, and six runs scored versus the Blue Jays. In World Series play, he was a lifetime .373 hitter, with five extra-base hits and two stolen bases over two series. He turned in a four-hit effort in the decisive Game 7 of the 1985 Series, clinching the first title in Royals history.
Brock played in three (and won two) World Series with the Cardinals during the 60s, and he absolutely went off every time. After hitting .300 with three extra-base hits in 1964, but took it to an unreal level from there. Over 14 games in the 1967 and ’68 Series’, Brock hit .439 with 43 total bases, 10 extra-base hits, and converted 14 of 16 stolen base attempts.
Bumgarner first appeared in the postseason as a 20-year-old and tossed eight shutout innings in Game 4 of the 2010 World Series. Since then, Mad Bum has gone on to own a 2.11 ERA and an 8-3 record over 102.1 postseason innings. His crowning moment came during an unbelievable 2014 postseason, where owned a 1.03 ERA over six starts and a record 0.29 ERA in the World Series. He capped the effort with a series-saving Game 7 relief appearance – where he threw five scoreless innings on two days rest to deliver a third World Series in six years for the Giants.
Collins played in six World Series between the Philadelphia A’s and Chicago White Sox and won four. He hit over .400 in 1910, 1913, 1914, and 1917, owning a .381 on-base percentage, alongside nine extra-base hits and 14 stolen bases. More dubiously, Collins was a member of the 1919 ‘Black Sox’ in his final World Series appearance, but was not mentioned among the players in on the fix.
As the relief ace for the dominant Oakland A’s teams of the 1970s, regularly worked in some high-leverage October moments. Over the course of nine postseason series, Fingers worked 57.1 innings, turning in nine saves and 45 strikeouts. During the 1973 World Series, he posted a 0.66 ERA, while appearing in six of seven games and working two or more innings in three of those outings. He was named MVP of the 1974 World Series, after winning Game 1 and converting saves in games 3 & 4.
No pitcher in World Series history has more wins to his credit than Ford’s 10. Overall, ‘The Chairman of the Board’ appeared in 11 Fall Classics, working to a 2.71 ERA and winning World Series MVP in 1961, after allowing no runs over two starts. Over the course of his career, in addition to his wins record, Ford set World Series records for consecutive scoreless innings (33.1), strikeouts (94), and innings pitched (146), among others.
Between his tenures with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, Garvey won five NL pennants and one World Series, in 1981. Over the course of 11 postseason series, he hit under .300 only twice, owning a career .338 average, with 11 home runs and 31 RBI, with a .910 OPS. His crowning performance came when he won the first of two career NLCS MVP honors in 1978 when he hit four home runs and totaled 22 total bases over four games to lead the Dodgers over the Phillies.
The Iron Horse won six of his seven career World Series appearances and remains among the upper echelon of even the best postseason performers of all time. Gehrig hit a staggering .361 over 34 World Series games, adding in 10 home runs and a .483 on-base percentage. In the 1928 Series, he posted an unbelievable 2.433 OPS, with four of his six hits leaving the park while driving in nine. Overall, Gehrig’s Yankee teams posted a 27-7 record with him in postseason play and he once won 12 consecutive World Series games, hitting .460 during the streak.
Over the course of nine postseason starts, turned in a 7-2 record, a 1.89 ERA, and some of the most legendary outings in baseball history. He twice won World Series MVP, first in 1964 when he won games five and seven and set a record with 31 strikeouts for the series. In 1967, he worked three complete-game victories over the Boston Red Sox, allowing just three runs in the process – all after coming back from a broken leg suffered just three months prior. Finally, in 1968, he set a still-standing World Series record with 17 strikeouts in Game 1 versus the Detroit Tigers.
On the heels of his incredible Cy Young Award-winning 1988 season, which featured his mythical 59 consecutive scoreless inning streak, Hershiser turned in a postseason for the ages as well. He captured both NLCS and World Series MVP, going 3-0 with a 1.06 ERA over 42.2 innings. It was the crowning season of an overall strong playoff career, that saw him go 8-3 with a 2.59 ERA over 22 appearances.
For ‘Mr. October’, the name truly says it all. A five-time World Series Champion and two-time Series MVP, few –if any— players craved the spotlight as Jackson did, and he didn’t waste the opportunity often. He connected for 18 career postseason home runs, which tied for the most in history at the time of his retirement. In the 1977 Series, Jackson hit .450 with a record-tying five home runs, three of which came in a legendary Game 4 effort, all coming on consecutive pitches.
Few –if any— players in history are most synonymous with postseason success than The Captain. A five-time World Series champion and .321 career postseason hitter, Jeter is the all-time leader in games played, hits, doubles, triples, runs scored, and total bases, among many other categories. Jeter’s postseason greatness often transcended statistical measures, as his uncanny knack for getting the big hit or making the perfect play just went the Yankees needed it appropriately earned him the monikers “Mr. November” and “Captain Clutch”.
No pitcher in history impacted the course of a World Series to a greater degree than Koufax. He won MVP in two of the three Dodger World Series victories between 1959 and 1965, working to a lifetime 0.95 ERA in postseason play. In 1965, after notably sitting out Game 1 in observance of Yom Kippur, Koufax threw complete-game shutouts with 10 strikeouts in games 5 and 7, wrapping up a series where he allowed one run over 24 innings. Lifetime, Koufax struck out 42% of the batters he faced in World Series play, with 61 Ks over 57 innings.
Lester played a pivotal postseason role with two of the more beleaguered franchises in MLB history. With the Boston Red Sox, he won two World Series, owning a 3-0 record and an 0.56 ERA, and 18 strikeouts vs. four walks. In 2016, he was named NLCS MVP after scattering two runs over two starts and propelling the Cubs to their first World Series since 1908. Once in the Series, Lester won Game 4 and started the decisive Game 7, completing a six-start postseason run of a 2.02 ERA and 30 strikeouts against six walks and a .209 average against.
The iconic Yankee centerfielder played in 12 World Series in his 18-year career, winning seven. Although he played in his last Fall Classic 57 years ago, he remains the all-time World Series leader in home runs (18), RBI (40), extra-base hits (26), runs scored (42), walks (43), and total bases (123). Mantle twice connected for three home runs in a single Series (1956 & 1964) and had 15 or more total bases four times (1952, ’56, ’58, and ’64).
The first great World Series performer was the Giants’ ace from the turn of the century. A 373 game-winner and member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class, ‘Matty’ turned in an extraordinary 0.97 lifetime World Series ERA over 11 complete games. His greatest performance came in 1905, when threw three shutouts in three starts against the Philadelphia Athletics, issuing just one walk over the 27 innings worked. Amazingly over his World Series career, Mathewson was touched for one run or fewer in eight of 11 starts and twice pitched 11 innings, while allowing one run over the pair of starts.
A .368 lifetime postseason hitter, the multi-skilled Molitor turned in one of the great World Series efforts of all-time in 1993. Although Joe Carter famously connected for the walk-off homer in Game 6 that ended the series, it was Molitor who technically scored the tying run, as he had singled the at-bat prior to Carter coming to the plate. It capped a series where he hit .500 (12-for-24), with two doubles, two triples, two home runs, eight RBI, and 10 runs scored.
Big Papi was the backbone of three World Series champions in Boston, from 2004 to 2013. Along the way, he hit an incredible .455 in World Series play, alongside a 1.372 OPS and finishing in the top 10 all-time in Win Probability Added in Series play. He was named World Series MVP in 2013 when he turned in one of the most undeniable impacts of all-time against the Cardinals. Ortiz hit .688 (11-for-16), with two home runs and eight walks against one strikeout. It was by far the highest batting average in Series history for players with at least 20 plate appearances.
The workhorse starter for the Yankees dynasty of the late 1990s into the 2000s, Pettitte holds the records for most total postseason wins (19), games started (44) and innings pitched (276.2). He often took the mound in some of the most pivotal moments of the World Series, most notably being the victor of 1-0 duel against John Smoltz in Game 5 of the ’96 Series and starting the decisive Game 4 of the 1998 Series. He was the first pitcher to start –and win— three series-clinching playoff games in a single season in 2009.
The offensive engine for the ultra-consistent Cardinals of the early 2000s, Pujols is a two-time World Series champion and owns a .323 lifetime postseason average. Over 77 playoff games, he has 38 extra-base hits, including 19 home runs – three of which came in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series. Pujols is one of the foremost League Championship Series terrors of all time, where he owns a .383/.467/.713 split all-time and famously launched one of the most devastating home runs of all-time against Astros closer Brad Lidge to stave off elimination in 2005.
One of the most consistent hitters of all-time, Ramirez predictably carried over his elite run production to October as well. A postseason attendee with the Indians, Red Sox, and Dodgers, Ramirez owns the record for most postseason home runs with 29, lifetime. He also places second all-time in postseason RBI (78) and total bases (223). He played a vital role in the Red Sox ending the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004, winning World Series MVP after hitting .412 over the four-game sweep of the Cardinals.
A very strong argument for Rivera as the most dominant postseason performer of all time could be made, and hard to argue against. Rivera converted an incredible 42 of 46 save attempts in postseason play, owning the record for both World Series and total playoff saves in the process. He allowed just 13 runs over 141 innings and 96 career playoff appearances, good for an all-time record low 0.70 postseason ERA. Overall, he won five World Series titles, along with an ALCS and World Series MVP in the process.
The unstoppable force of nature for both Cincinnati’s ‘Big Red Machine’ teams of the 70s and for the Philadelphia Phillies of the early 80s, Rose reached the postseason eight times. Lifetime he walked away with three World Series titles and a .321 career average. He hit over .350 in seven different series, highlighted by his World Series MVP effort in 1975 when he hit .370 and contributed a game-tying single late in Game 7.
The biggest question is not IF Ruth should be on the list, but WHICH version of the Babe was greater? As the big-swinging, Sultan of Swat for the Yankees, Ruth was a lifetime .347 hitter with 15 home runs in World Series play, leading the Yankees to their first four championships. However, prior to that, he was one of the great early pitchers in postseason history for the Boston Red Sox, going 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA in route to two titles there as well. No matter how you slice it, Ruth was an October legend of rare approach.
A solid contributor during the regular season, the affable “Panda” became one of the most dangerous and timely clutch performers of all time in postseason play. A lifetime .338 postseason hitter overall, Sandoval took things to the next level in World Series play, hitting .426 over 50 plate appearances, with a 1.162 OPS. In Game 1 of the 2012 World Series, he joined Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and Albert Pujols on a select list of players with three homers in a World Series game, in route to claiming series MVP.
The “Bloody Sock” game in 2004 is the most notable moment of his postseason career, where he helped to keep the surging Red Sox alive and set the table for the first 3-0 series comeback win in history. However, there are few with a better all-around body of work in October than Schilling. A three-time World Series winner, Schilling posted an 11-2 lifetime postseason record, with a 2.23 ERA and 120 strikeouts over 133.1 innings. He was MVP of the 1993 NLCS with the Phillies and then 2001 World Series MVP with the Diamondbacks.
With a lifetime 15-4 postseason record, while he was just one leg of the Braves Hall of Fame trio of starting arms, Smoltz set himself apart from the pack in the playoffs. Smoltz owned a career ERA south of 3.00 in every stage of postseason play, is the all-time leader in LCS strikeouts with 89, and is tied for the all-time lead in NLCS wins with six. His most memorable postseason moment came in 1991 when he carried a shutout into the eighth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against Jack Morris in one of the great postseason duels of all time.
Matt Whitener is St. Louis-based writer, radio host and 12-6 curveball enthusiast. He has been covering Major League Baseball since 2010, and dabbles in WWE, NBA and other odd jobs as well. Follow Matt on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.