Clay Buchholz and his Game 3 opponent are among the rarest of playoff pairings.
The Red Sox faced the best pitchers Joe Maddon had to offer in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS, passing the tough test against nemeses Mike Moore and David Price with flying colors. Now the series shifts inside to Tropicana Field in otherwise lovely St. Petersburg, Fla. where the Sox have gone against Game 3 starter, Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76 ERA), three times already in 2013 with much success. In 16 innings against him, Sox hitters have touched up the young righthander for 10 earned runs, 17 hits and eight walks. Cobb will be celebrating his 26th birthday by squaring off with Clay Buchholz (12-1, 1.74 ERA), who faced the Rays twice this season, once in April at Fenway and again in September at the Trop. He has a personal 13-inning scoreless streak against the Rays, allowing just five hits and five walks in two victories.
On the surface Monday’s game looks like a solid matchup between two of the better pitchers in the AL East. However a closer look into the numbers actually makes this an unlikely pairing for the ages. Since the start of the World Series era in 1903, there have been very few starting pairings to enter a postseason contest with a combined personal winning percentage as high as the .852 compiled by Buchholz (.923) and Cobb (.786). And by few we mean only one other higher.
Amazing as that may seem, never before have two AL starting pitchers met in a postseason game with a better combined record than Boston’s oft-injured veteran righthander, and Tampa Bay’s newly post-seasoned youngster who was lights out in the win-or-go-home contest in the AL Wild Card game against the Tribe in Cleveland.
You don’t have to look too far back to find the only instance of two playoff starters with a better combined record. That distinction is held by the starters Kyle Lohse of the Cardinals and Kris Medlen of the Braves who got the call in the 2012 NL Wild Card game. Those two had an aggregate record of 26-4 during the regular season, a winning clip of .867. But a look deep into the baseball annals finds nobody else to beat them. In fact these have been only five previous instances (including Lohse and Medlen’s) where both of the starters in a playoff game had a winning percentage as good as Cobb’s .786 (minimum 10 regular season decisions).
- 2012 NL Wild Card Game: Kyle Lohse, Cardinals (16-3, .842) vs. Kris Medlen, Braves (10-1). (Total: 26-4, .867)
- 1986 AL Championship Series Game 7: Roger Clemens, Red Sox (24-4, .857) vs. John Candelaria, Angels (10-2, .833) (Total: 34-6, .850)
- 2001 AL Championship Series Game 4: Roger Clemens, Yankees (20-3, .870) vs. Paul Abbott, Mariners (17-4, .810). (Total: 37-7, .841)
- 1910 World Series Game 4: King Cole, Cubs (20-4, .833) vs. Chief Bender, Athletics (23-5, .821). (Total: 43-9 .827)
- 1953 World Series Game 2: Eddie Lopat, Yankees (16-4, .800) vs. Preacher Roe, Dodgers (11-3, .786). (Total: 27-7, .794).
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He has also authored or made contributions to many books, including the Sports Illustrateds 100 Fenway: A Fascinating First Century.
Now living in Marblehead, hes focusing his attention on the Boston sports scene, specifically delving into the numbers affecting the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins, with the goal of informing and entertaining real fans. You can follow him on Twitter at @SabinoSports.