By Paul Casella
Jake Arrieta continued his historic 2015 campaign on Wednesday night by turning in one of the most dominant postseason outings of all-time in helping the Cubs defeat the Pirates, 4-0, in the National League Wild Card Game. He tossed a complete-game four-hitter with 11 strikeouts and no walks.
For starters, Arrieta became the first pitcher in postseason history to toss a shutout, while striking out at least 10 batters and walking zero. He also finished with a game score of 90, which is the highest ever in a winner-take-all postseason game -- and that doesn't even factor in his stealing a base. As for postseason games overall, Arrieta's game score is tied for the 14th-best all-time.
So what is the best start in postseason history based on game score? Well, the answer will likely surprise you.
Before getting started, here's a quick rundown for anyone unfamiliar with game score, a metric created by Bill James to evaluate individual starts. A pitcher begins with 50 points and has a point added for each out, two points for each inning completed after the fourth and one point for each strikeout. You also subtract two points for each hit allowed, four points for each earned run allowed, two points for each unearned run allowed and one point for each walk.
The following is a list of the top seven outings in postseason history, based strictly on game score. Keep in mind that, like most statistics, game score is not intended to be the sole barometer of success, but instead simply a starting point for the conversation.
5(t). Roy Halladay (PHI), 2010 NLDS (Game 1)
Game Score: 94
Line: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 8 K
It's hard to believe that Halladay tossed only the second no-hitter in postseason history and, not only is it not higher on this list, but it wasn't even his top game score from that year. Halladay, of course, twirled a perfect game on May 29, 2010, before later tossing this no-hitter in the Phillies' postseason opener against the Reds. His perfect game earlier in the year yielded a game score of 98, thanks to his 11 strikeouts and the lack of anyone reaching base. His postseason no-no wasn't too bad either, as his lone miscue came on a two-out walk in the top of the fifth inning.
5(t). Ed Walsh (CHW), 1906 World Series (Game 3)
Game Score: 94
Line: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 12 K
Walsh actually got off to a bit of a rocky start in this one, allowing two hits in the first inning, one of which would have produced a run if not for a caught stealing earlier in the frame. As it turns out, those would be the only hits allowed by Walsh all afternoon. The Hall of Famer would retire 25 of the final 27 batters he faced, with the two exceptions being a fourth-inning walk and a ninth-inning reached-on error. He tallied a dozen strikeouts along the way, including four over the final two innings, as the White Sox took a 2-1 series lead en route to winning the 1906 World Series in six games.
5(t). Don Larsen (NYY), 1956 World Series (Game 5)
Game Score: 94
Line: 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K
No, this is not a misprint. The lone perfect game in postseason history checks in at fifth on the all-time list of top game scores. Before completely throwing the metric out the window, keep in mind there are two key factors working against Larsen. First, as you will see, two of the four pitchers ahead of Larsen benefitted by pitching deep into extra innings, back when that was still a routine occurrence. Secondly, the other two pitchers to score higher than Larsen each tallied at least double the amount of strikeouts. All that said, nobody can blame you if you choose to declare this one the most dominant postseason outing of all-time, regardless of game score.
4. Tim Lincecum (SFG), 2010 NLDS (Game 1)
Game Score: 96
Line: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 14 K
Though he was still three years away from throwing the first of his two no-hitters, Lincecum looked nearly unhittable in San Francisco's 2010 NLDS opener against the Braves. After allowing a leadoff double to start the game, Lincecum responded by retiring each of the next nine batters, while notching five consecutive strikeouts at one point. The only other hit he allowed would come on a one-out, seventh-inning double by Brian McCann, though Lincecum would then retire the final eight hitters, including four of the final five via strikeout.
2(t). Babe Ruth (BOS), 1916 World Series (Game 2)
Game Score: 97
Line: 14 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 4 K
Ruth's presence on this list obviously has more to do with the fact that he pitched 14 innings than anything else. He's the only pitcher on this list to allow a run, while the six hits are also the most allowed and the four strikeouts are by far the fewest. That said, Ruth still managed to stymie the Dodgers for 13 straight innings after allowing an inside-the-park home run in the top of the first. From there, Ruth would allow only one baserunner to reach as far as third base, while also finishing the game with six consecutive hitless innings.
2(t). Dave McNally (BAL), 1969 ALCS (Game 2)
Game Score: 97
Line: 11 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 11 K
Though McNally struggled a bit with his control, as evidenced by his five walks, the southpaw managed to outduel Twins starter Dave Boswell on his way to an 11-inning shutout. McNally allowed at least one baserunner in each of the first four innings before then retiring 21 of the next 22 batters to keep the Orioles in the game, despite the fact that Baltimore also failed to score a run in regulation. Once the game went to extras, McNally kicked it into another gear, striking out the side in order in the top of the 10th before also pitching a scoreless 11th. The O's finally walked it off in the bottom of the 11th to seal a 1-0 victory on their way to a three-game sweep.
1. Roger Clemens (NYY), 2000 ALCS (Game 4)
Game Score: 98
Line: 9 IP, H, 0 R, 2 BB, 15 K
Clemens was in peak form on this night in bringing the Yankees to within one win of a World Series berth -- and pushing the Mariners to the brink, in the process. The Rocket struck out eight Mariners batters through six hitless innings before finally conceding a leadoff double to open the bottom of the seventh. Clemens' response to giving up his first -- and only -- hit, however, was to then strike out the side. He then proceeded to strike out two batters each in both the eighth and ninth innings to seal the victory in a 138-pitch outing.
Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com.