So here you will find everything you ever and never wanted to know about pitchers who have won — and lost — 1-0 games over the last 50 years. It’s a dying art. This year, for instance, only six pitchers pitched complete game shutouts and won 1-0 — Yovani Gallardo back in early April, Francisco Liriano, Jake Peavy and Anibal Sanchez in May, Dan Haren and C.C. Sabathia within five days of each other in early July.
Oh, the 1-0 game as a team effort is actually making a bit of a comeback. There have been 51 of them this year, which is certainly more than there were throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. There were 62 1-0 games in 2010 — the most in baseball since the early 1970s. But even in 2010, only 10 pitchers threw the complete game shutouts (10 DIFFERENT pitchers, I might add). As we all know, pitchers just aren’t staying in games to throw all nine innings. Even pitchers throwing the shutout in 1-0 games are getting pulled. In June, for instance, the Pirates beat Houston 1-0 and used six pitchers to do it. SIX.* This is how the game has evolved.
*In 2006 only one pitcher — Jeremy Sowers — won 1-0 all year.
Still, the 1-0 individual pitching performance has fascinated me for a while. I’m not trying to infuse it with a whole lot meaning, but I like them. They’re fun. I think that has to be one of the great thrills of pitching. Throwing a shutout is thrilling enough. But to throw one when your team scores only one run, well, that’s got to be the pitching equivalent of a walk-off home run.
I really became fascinated by the 1-0 game when I realized that Bert Blyleven pitched in more of them than anyone in a half century. This was when Blyleven was struggling to get the necessary 75% for the Hall of Fame, and for a while there he was actually getting less support than Jack Morris. The reasoning for this thinking seemed to be that Morris was a winner and Blyleven — despite career numbers that were significantly more impressive across the board — was not. The only real evidence offered was Morris’ better winning percentage (heck, Blyleven won 33 more games, so percentage suddenly became the point of emphasis) and that Morris won perhaps the most famous 1-0 game in baseball history, that being the Twins’ 1-0 win over Atlanta in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
Blyleven didn’t need 1-0 games to convince me that he belonged in the Hall of Fame — not with him being fifth all-time in strikeouts,. ninth all-time in shutouts and so on. But the 1-0 revelation did, I think, cast him in a new light. Blyleven won 14 games 1-0 in his career, more than anyone the last 50 years. More than Seaver. More than Carlton. More than Ryan. It doesn’t have to be a surprising or significant stat — you throw 60 shutouts in your career, some are bound to be 1-0 shutouts — but I do think it was a punch to the face of the “Blyleven was a loser” theme. From about 2004 to 2010, Blyleven’s vote totals really took off. I’m not saying the 1-0 game thing changed anybody’s mind. I just think that that people began seeing Blyleven’s career more clearly.
In any case, I started poking around 1-0 games at that point just to see if there were other interesting nuggets to be found. And I compiled a list of the 1,069 games that pitchers have won 1-0, and the 759 games that a pitcher has lost 1-0.
I should stop here and say that I am referring only to games when pitchers threw complete games. I have already heard from various people on Twitter that including losses in here is selective bias — many pitchers who lose 1-0 get pinch-hit for in the eighth or ninth innings. This is true, I suppose, but I’m sticking with my way of doing it for three reasons. One, I’ve already gone down this road and I’m not going back. Two, this is not exactly a scientific study. I’m no scientist. And 1-0 games hardly seem worth the effort of one. It’s just a fun little exercise I’ve taken on to pass the time.
And three, I don’t think a pitcher who gives up 1 run in 7 innings really lost a 1-0 game. That’s a good pitching performance, sure, but it’s not uncommon. Giving up one run in eight innings and losing 1-0 is a little bit more painful, but that’s a complete game for pitchers on the road of a 1-0 defeat. I’m sticking with complete games only. If someone wants to do a more detailed and involved study of 1-0 games, great, I would love to read it. But for now, when I say that a pitcher won or lost a 1-0 game, I mean they pitched a complete game.
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So, with the parameters in place, who is the greatest 1-0 pitcher of the last half century? I actually think it’s a three-way tie:
— Sandy Koufax. I find this astounding and fun: Koufax went 10-0 in 1-0 games. You can use that in your next trivia contest, by the way.
Of the 10 games, four were against the St. Louis Cardinals, by the way, and two of those were against Bob Gibson. I think the joy of the 1-0 game is that, as I wrote about stats a few weeks ago, it tells a story. Koufax vs. Gibson in the heat of May and June, once in St. Louis, once in Los Angeles, throwing impossibly hard fastballs, both knowing for inning after inning that one run would probably win it, that’s joyful baseball. I have written a million times that pitchers don’t win and lose games by themselves, and they don’t, not even when it’s Gibson and Koufax and a 1-0 game. But it can feel that way, it can feel like pitcher against pitcher, and then the game takes on the tension of the final round of a close fight, a fifth-set at Wimbledon, and then Gibson strikes out Koufax to end one threat, Ken Boyer lashes a single off Koufax but gets caught stealing, Tommy Davis hits a ninth inning home run to lift the Dodgers to victory. That’s wonderful baseball.
— Greg Maddux. I’ve already mentioned that the 1-0 pitching era has faded. Roger Clemens won only three 1-0 games in his fabulous career, and none after 1992. Pedro Martinez only won three. Roy Halladay has only won two, Cliff Lee one, and Felix Hernandez (this was one of the more shocking discoveries) has NEVER won a 1-0 game.
Maddux won more 1-0 games than those five pitchers COMBINED. He went 11-1 in 1-0 games. When you consider that he threw 35 shutouts in his career, it’s pretty amazing that almost one-third of them came in 1-0 games. In 1988, Maddux threw a 10-inning shutout to beat San Diego. The 10-inning shutout has become as rare as cassette tapes. It has only been done four times since then and zero times in the last five years (The last guy to do it was Mark Mulder in 2005; Roy Halladay did it in 2003, Dave Stewart in 1990, and Bruce Hurst just three months after Maddux in 1988).
Maddux’s best 1-0 win was probably in 2001, when he was 35. He allowed three base runners and struck out 14 Brewers — of course, one thing those 2001 Brewers could do was strike out.
— Dean Chance. There has never been another season quite like the one Dean Chance had in 1964. He began the year as some sort of starter-reliever blend. By the end of May he was 3-2 with four saves and a hold (not that saves and holds existed in 1964; we are awarding him those retroactively). On June 2nd, he shut out Boston 1-0, striking out 15 Red Sox along way. By July 1st, he was a full-time starter, but he was 5-5 despite a 1.97 ERA.
Then, on July 11, he beat the White Sox 1-0. Four days later, he beat the Tigers 1-0. On August 18, he again beat the Tigers 1-0. And finally in late September he beat Minnesota and its young pitcher Jim Kaat 1-0. So that means five times in one year, Dean Chance beat a team 1-0 — that’s the most for anyone the last 50 years. Even Gibson in the year of the pitcher only won four games 1-0.
That wasn’t the only year that Chance won games 1-0. He won 128 games in his career — THIRTEEN of them he won 1-0. Really for five years — from 1964-68 — Chance was a great pitcher. He also was abused by teams. Twice he led the league in innings pitched, and in 1968 he threw 292 innings and had an 0.983 WHIP. He was one of the best pitchers in the American League that season, but his won-loss record (and this is where the use of won-loss record gets harmful) was only 16-16 and so he had to take a sizable pay cut for the 1969 season. He hurt his back and was out of baseball at 30.
He then ran carnivals, which perfectly fit his name and his persona. He was 13-3 in 1-0 games for his career. He was excellent at games of chance.
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Here then are the 10 pitchers who have won the most 1-0 games the last 50 years:
1. Bert Blyleven, 14
2. Dean Chance, 13
3. Gaylord Perry, 12
(tie) Steve Carlton, 12
5. Fergie Jenkins, 11
(tie) Nolan Ryan, 11
(tie) Greg Maddux, 11
8. Sandy Koufax, 10
9. JIm Palmer, 9
(tie) Don Sutton, 9
(tie) Jerry Koosman, 9
And here are the 10 pitchers with the best winning percentage in 1-0 games (min. 10)
1. Sandy Koufax, 10-0, 1.000
2. Greg Maddux, 11-1, .917
3. Steve Carlton, 12-2, .857
4. Don Sutton, 9-2, .818
(tie) Jerry Koosman, 9-2, .818
6. Dean Chance, 13-3, .813
7. Nolan Ryan, 11-3, .786
8. Jim Palmer, 9-3, .750
9. Mike Cuellar, 8-3, .727
10. Gaylord Perry, 12-5, 706
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Now, what about the hardest luck pitchers — the ones who have LOST the most 1-0 games over those 50 years. Well, once again, the name should be familiar to you: Bert Blyleven lost nine 1-0 games in his career. Of course, in this particular case, losing 1-0 games, while agonizing, still means the guy pitched great.
I would say the unluckiest loser over the last half century was Frank Tanana. He was probably the best pitcher in the American League from 1975-77. He led the league in strikeouts in 1975 (and pitcher WAR), in WHIP in 1976, and in ERA and shutouts in 1977. Each year, though, he was overshadowed by Jim Palmer, who won more games. Palmer won 23 in 1975 (to Tanana’s 16). Palmer won 22 in 1976 (to Tanana’s 19). Palmer won 20 in 1977 (to Tanana’s lowly 15 — though the Cy that year actually went to Sparky Lyle). But there’s a pretty sound argument to be made that Tanana at least as good a pitcher as Palmer all three of those years.
The win totals were hard to come by because those Angels teams were ASTONISHINGLY bad at scoring runs. Those Angels teams have some of my favorite individual home run bits of trivia of any team in baseball history.
For instance: In 1975, Leroy Stanton led the Angels with 14 home runs. FOURTEEN. And guess what, that’s not even the amazing part. The amazing part is that with 14 homers Stanton had MORE THAN TWICE AS MANY as any other player on the Angels. Joe Lahoud and Adrian Garrett finished second on the team with six apiece.
For instance: In 1976, the Angels were at the bottom of pretty much every offensive category, including (of course) home runs hit. That year, Bobby Bonds led the Angels with 10 home runs. Yeah. Ten.
Things got better in 1977 — Bonds bashed 37 homers that year — but not for Tanana. He lost four 1-0 games in those three season, two of them in 1977. In 1980, he lost a 1-0 game where the run he gave up was unearned.*
*Don Cardwell was the master of the unearned-run loss — three times in his career he lost 1-0 when the run he allowed unearned. This actually happened twice in 1965 … and this might be the coolest discovery of this entire exercise.
In 1965, Cardwell lost to the Mets 1-0 when his opposing pitcher, Al Jackson, hit a ground ball to Bill Mazeroski (of all people), and Maz threw it away allowing the only run to score.
Two weeks later, Cardwell lost an even more heartbreaking game against the Dodgers. This turned out to be one of Koufax’s 10 1-0 victories; the game was scoreless going into the 10th inning. Koufax struck out Cardwell in the 10th to end the inning. And in the bottom of the 10th, Cardwell walked Koufax, who was a legendarily bad hitter. He also walked Wes Parker, and Jim Gilliam followed hit a line drive to a right fielder you might have heard of named Roberto Clemente, who booted it allowing Koufax to score the game winner.
How about losing 1-0 twice in two weeks on errors by Mazeroski and Clemente. See, this is why I do these stupid research projects.
As you probably know, Tanana’s entire career was tinged with bad luck — and his story is how he dealt with it. He went from a great power pitcher to a slop-baller after he was injured. He went from a dominant pitcher in the mid 1970s to an innings eater in the 1980s. All in all, Tanana went 5-8 in 1-0 games in his career. He lost three games where he pitched at least seven innings and didn’t give up an earned run, and lost 38 games where he pitched at least seven and gave up two runs or fewer.
His carer record was 240-236 — he’s 17th on the all-time loss list. But in a different scenario, he might have won 15 or 20 more games. Then, in a really different scenario — one where he stayed healthy — he probably would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
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Here then are the worst records for 1-0 pitchers (I’ll go with seven starts min. since, as pointed out, pitchers often get pulled when losing 1-0).
1. Clyde Wright, 1-6, .143
2. Larry Jackson, 2-7, .222
3. Chuck Finley, 2-5, .286
4. Unlucky Don Cardwell, 3-5, .375
5. Frank Tanana, 5-8, .385
6. Sam McDowell, 3-4, .429
(tie) Bob Friend, 3-4, .429
8. Jim Kaat, 5-6, .455
I should mention that Roger Craig and Jim Colborn both lost all four 1-0 games they pitched in.