Continuing in the thread of top career play-off performances, we’ll take a look at the greatest pitchers for the Tribe in October and beyond. As with the hitters, there’s definitely a skewing towards the modern as expanded play-offs have increased both the number of games in a postseason and the chances of reaching it, but we’ll give credit where it’s due, all the way back to the Indians first post-season appearance in 1920.
10. Brian Anderson – 1997
Just like Matt Williams in the hitting top ten, Anderson had an incredible play-off run with the Indians before helping the Diamondbacks to their 2001 championship. In 1997, Anderson was used exclusively as a reliever, pitching in six games and allowing just two runs over 10 innings. Anderson’s three hits allowed are a record for least by an Indians pitcher in the postseason with at least 10 innings as is his 0.60 WHIP and 2.7 H/9.
9. Bartolo Colon – 1998-99, 2001
While the 2001 postseason was a short run for the Indians, it was almost as if they were two different teams. When Colon or CC Sabathia pitched, the Indians seemed guaranteed to win, but when anyone else did, things went poorly. Sabathia ruined his chance to be on this list in 2007, but Colon already had two solid starts from 1998 and one in 1999 under his belt before he allowed just three runs in 14.2 innings in 2001. Overall, he struck out 31 in 38.1 innings, holding a 3.29 ERA that came almost exclusively from a terrible start in the 1999 ALDS against Boston where he allowed seven runs in one inning.
In his other five starts, he allowed seven runs combined and three times pitched at least through the 8th inning including one complete game.
8. Chad Ogea – 1995-98
Ogea was never a star pitcher during his brief six year career, posting a 4.88 ERA and lackluster numbers all around and he wasn’t much of a hitter either, going 0 for 2 in his limited hitting appearances with the Indians. Despite that, he held a 3.26 ERA in the postseason, making nine appearances in six different post-season series.
Unquestionably, the highlight of Ogea’s career came in the 1997 play-offs when he went at least five innings in all of his five appearances (one in relief) and only once allowed as many as three runs. He won both his games against the Marlins in the World Series including one where he had two hits including a double, knocked in two and scored another in a game the Indians won 4-1.
7. Michael Jackson – 1997-99
The Indians closer after Jose Mesa, Jackson was somehow even better in the post-season than he was during the regular season. In his first play-off year with the Indians, he didn’t allow a run until the World Series and as it was, gave up just one in 13.1 innings. He would pitch in the play-offs each of the next two years as well, ultimately striking out 20 in 20.1 innings while allowing just 12 hits.
6. Gene Bearden – 1948
Lou Boudreau went to the knuckle-balling, left handed rookie in the game 156 tiebreaker to win the AL Pennant against the Red Sox and he allowed just one earned run in a complete game victory, but that doesn’t even count here. Either do his wins in six consecutive starts to end the season to vault the Indians into the World Series. What does count are his two World Series appearances where he went 10.2 innings and didn’t allow a single run.
Starting game six, Bearden pitched a complete game shut out, hit a double and scored a run. He then appeared in game six, earning the save over 1.2 innings and ending the series giving the Indians their most recent World Series victory.
5. Duster Mails – 1920
Before there was Ryan Merritt, before there was Jaret Wright and before there was Gene Bearden, the Indians had a rookie dominate in the postseason like none before him. Mails didn’t join the team until September 1st, but destroyed the competition during the last month of the regular season. That was just a prelude to his work in the World Series.
Pitching games three and six, Mails didn’t allow a run and most impressively only faced 34 batters in his complete game shut out win in his last post-season appearance. Overall, he went 15.2 innings, allowed six hits, six walks and struck out six.
4. Andrew Miller – 2016
Possibly the biggest mid-season trade acquisition in Indians history, Miller loses points for allowing two home runs in the World Series, but he did enough before that to earn the #4 spot on this list. His 13.97 K/9 ranks just behind Cody Allen and Paul Assenmacher and he allowed just 12 hits in 19.1 innings. Terry Francona‘s modern use of Miller during the 2016 post-season may have revolutionized bullpens forever, won him the ALCS MVP and made him the single most feared player in the play-offs. Of course, maybe hitters should have been more afraid of…
3. Cody Allen – 2013, 2016
Allen got a taste of the postseason in 2013, allowing an unearned run and striking out a batter in the Wild Card game against Tampa. It would be the last run of any kind he allowed in the post season. In the 2016 campaign, he struck out 24 in 13.2 innings including 12 in six during the World Series and allowed just eight hits. While Andrew Miller got all the credit for the Indians bullpen, Miller would never have been free to use whenever needed if it weren’t for Allen locking down the late innings. Doing that, he saved six games in one post-season, more than any other reliever had in their career.
2. Stan Coveleski – 1920
The ace of the staff in the Indians first title season, Coveleski pitched in three of seven games in the best of nine series. He completed all three of his starts, still an Indians record, and allowed just two earned runs along the way for a 0.67 ERA. It’s essentially a toss up between one and two here, but due to the level of difficulty, innings pitched and strike outs (35 to 8), the number one spot belongs to…
1. Corey Kluber – 2016
Before anyone claims recency bias, realize how much harder it is to pitch in the modern age than it was in the dead ball era or even the 1940’s. The 2016 season was the advent of the third great offensive age (1930’s, 1990’s and the present) and yet Kluber put up numbers against three of the greatest offensive forces, the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Cubs, that would make Addie Joss blush.
In his first post-season, Kluber allowed just seven runs over 34.1 innings including three starts in the World Series, a feat only accomplished once before by an Indians pitcher, Coveleski in 1920. Kluber leads all Indians pitchers in postseason wins after just one season and is fourth in strike outs, only 20 behind Charles Nagy who pitched a full 50 more innings. With three starters out with injuries, Kluber was essentially asked to win the World Series on his own and he almost did it.