Lincecum-Halladay stirs memories of pitching duels
Tim Lincecum walks back to the dugout after pitching against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fourth inning of their baseball game in San Francisco, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010. (AP)
Merely mention Tim Lincecum vs. Roy Halladay and it stirs memories of the most anticipated pitchers' duels of all time — Koufax vs. Ford, McLain vs. Gibson and Catfish vs. Seaver, to highlight a few over the last 50 years.
And now, in an era when pitch counts often matter more than ERA, comes a matchup that a fan from any age can appreciate.
Halladay, fresh from throwing a no-hitter for Philadelphia in his postseason debut, against Lincecum, who struck out 14 in a two-hit shutout for San Francisco in his first playoff appearance.
Heading into their meeting in Game 1 of the NL championship series Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park, a look back at some of the most hyped pitching pairings in the past quarter century:
— Roger Clemens vs. Dwight Gooden, 1986. They'd faced each other a few months earlier in the All-Star game, and now baseball's most electric aces hooked up again in Game 2 of the World Series. Lean and mean, Clemens led the majors with a 24-4 mark for Boston, the same record Gooden posted the previous year for the Mets. Shea Stadium was pulsating that October night as expectations built, but the duel never developed. Coming off a dominant effort against the Angels in Game 7 of the ALCS, Clemens never found his rhythm and left after 4 1-3 innings. Hit hard, Gooden was gone after the fifth and the Red Sox coasted 9-3. Neither Gooden nor Clemens got a victory in the Series, which the Mets won in Game 7.
— John Smoltz vs. Jack Morris, 1991. Fans had little time to get ready for this matchup at the Metrodome after Kirby Puckett's 11th-inning home run sent the World Series to Game 7. Smoltz was 24 then — his true rise to prominence began 10 days earlier when he shut out Pittsburgh in Game 7 of the NLCS. As a boy growing up in the Detroit area, he idolized Morris, the winningest pitcher in the 1980s. Braves vs. Twins, seeing who would go worst-to-first. Morris already was a postseason ace when he pitched a game for the ages, going all 10 innings in a 1-0 win that sent Minnesota over Atlanta. Braves manager Bobby Cox took out Smoltz after 7 1-3 innings. "I couldn't believe I was coming out of the game," Smoltz told Morris on Major League Baseball conference call Friday. "You should've just told Bobby to take a hike," Morris playfully responded. "We could've been out there for 15 innings. You never know what could've happened."
— Kevin Brown vs. Randy Johnson, 1998. Game 1 of the NL division series promised a rough day for hitters. The Big Unit led the majors with 329 strikeouts and, after being traded from Seattle to Houston on July 31, went 5-0 with four shutouts at the Astrodome. Brown was equally wicked, going 18-7 with a 2.38 ERA and fanning 257, a year after helping Florida win the World Series. The matchup more than delivered: Brown struck out a career-high 16 while pitching two-hit ball for eight shutout innings, and San Diego won 2-1. Johnson struck out nine in the loss.
— Roger Clemens vs. Pedro Martinez, 1999. Some called Game 3 of the AL championship series the most eagerly awaited pitching matchup ever at Fenway Park. Bumper stickers in Boston billed it as "Cy Old vs. Cy Young." They owned a combined six Cys between them, with Martinez set to win again after leading the majors in wins and ERA and topping the AL in strikeouts. The popular Pedro against the Rocket, the man who used to rule that same mound for the Red Sox. "I just hope it lives up to that hype," Yankees manager Joe Torre said a day before the game. "I have a sense it will." Martinez did his part, fanning 12 in seven shutout innings. But Clemens was chased in the third inning as his former fans chanted "Where is Roger?" Boston's 13-1 romp was the most-lopsided loss in the Yankees' postseason history. It was also the only game New York dropped in eliminating its longtime rival.
— Stephen Strasburg vs. Jeff Karstens, 2010. OK, it didn't really matter who was pitching for Pittsburgh. In a city full of bigwigs, the build up for Strasburg's major league debut was clearly the top story in the nation's capital and the whole baseball world. The 21-year-old Washington rookie did not disappoint a standing-room-only crowd at Nationals Park — firing 100 mph heat, he struck out 14 in seven innings. Who would've imagined that less than three months after Strasburg's 5-2 win in June, he'd need Tommy John surgery and could be out until 2012?