Rising to the occasion

^By tom jones | =@

As
Rays fans watched Rangers lefty
Cliff Lee completely stymie their team during two games of the
American League division series, they could at least take solace in
the fact that they were watching one of the greatest postseason
performers of all time. Lee, who beat the
Rays twice and is expected to start
Game 3 of the AL Championship Series against the Yankees on Monday
, has started seven postseason games and has gone 6-0 with 1.44
ERA. ? But he still has a little ways to go before we can add him
to today’s list of our favorite postseason performers of all time.
Some athletes have had great single-season postseason performances,
but here are great players who were even better come the postseason
over their entire careers. Mickey Mantle

No one has hit more postseason homers than the Yankees’ Bernie
Williams, who had 22 in 121 postseason games. Now think about this:
Mantle, left, hit 18 home runs in 65 postseason games. Makes you
wonder just how many homers Mantle might have hit if the postseason
was set up in his day like it is today, with two rounds before the
World Series. All of Mantle’s numbers came in the World Series.

Christy Mathewson

Overall, Mathewson was a .500 pitcher (5-5) in 11 World Series
games spread over 1905, 1911, 1912 and 1913. But his ERA was a
ridiculous 0.97. Plus, Mathewson makes our list because he had what
we consider the greatest postseason pitching performance in
history. In the 1905 World Series while pitching for the Giants,
Mathewson won three games, all by shutout, in a span of only six
days. That’s 27 innings, no runs, 13 hits, 18 strikeouts and one
walk in six days! Wayne Gretzky/Mario Lemieux

Just like Michael Jordan in basketball, Gretzky was far and away
the greatest hockey player ever, and he was even better in the
postseason. Gretzky is the NHL’s all-time postseason leader in
points (382), goals (122), assists (260) and hat tricks (10). Now
go back and reread those numbers then realize those statistics came
in 208 playoff games. When you mention Gretzky, you also have to
add Lemieux, who racked up 76 goals and 96 assists in 107 playoff
games. Michael Jordan

There is a reason his Airness is considered the greatest player
in NBA history. Not only is he the greatest player in regular
seasons full of games against the dregs of the league, but he was
even better when the pressure was the most intense against the
league’s best. Jordan is the NBA’s all-time points-per-game leader
in the playoffs with a 33.4 average, which was higher than his 30.1
points per game in the regular season. Remember the 63-point
performance against the Celtics? Remember the “Flu Game” when he
scored 38 in the 1997 NBA Finals against the Jazz? The famous
winning shots against the Cavaliers in 1989 or the NBA title-winner
against the Jazz in 1998? And, of course, six NBA titles, making
him the greatest clutch player in the NBA history.

Bob Gibson

The great Cardinals flame-thrower could not put up the gaudy
postseason numbers many more current pitchers can because he mostly
played in an era when there were no playoffs, just the World
Series. Gibson pitched in three World Series (1964, 1967, 1968). He
started nine games and completed eight of them. He went 7-2 in the
World Series with two shutouts and a remarkable 1.89 ERA along with
92 strikeouts in 81 innings.

Terry Bradshaw

In discussions of the greatest quarterbacks of all time,
Bradshaw’s name is often overlooked even though no QB won more
Super Bowls. Few quarterbacks have ever performed better in the
playoffs than Bradshaw, who was 14-5 as a postseason starter and a
perfect 4-0 in the Super Bowl. Bradshaw did not put up eye-popping
numbers, but he did save his best for the playoffs. Hard to
believe, but Bradshaw had only seven 300-yard passing games in his
career, but three of those came in the playoffs and two of those
came in the Super Bowl. Talk about saving your best for the biggest
moments. Joe Montana, certainly, needs to be mentioned, but we pay
extra attention to Bradshaw because he is often overlooked in this
discussion. Babe Ruth

You know, Ruth’s name is so much a part of baseball lore that, I
think, sometimes he is taken for granted, and we need to be
reminded just what an incredible player he really was.

Let’s start with this: He went 3-0 with an 0.87 ERA as a pitcher
for the Red Sox in the 1916 and 1918 World Series. As a hitter,
Ruth played in 10 World Series, hitting 15 homers with 33 RBIs. And
one of those homers, according to legend, was a called shot.

And get this: Ruth’s OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in
the World Series was 1.211. Know what Mark McGwire’s OPS was the
year he hit 70 homers? It was 1.222. Billy Smith

When you go through NHL history and name the greatest goalies,
you think of Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Ken Dryden, Tony
Esposito, Jacques Plante. How far do you get until you get to Billy
Smith, who played for the Islanders from 1972-89? But if you had to
pick one goalie in history to start a must-win game, Smith would be
near the top of the list. During the regular season, he was good –
a 305-233-105 record with a 3.17 goals-against average and an .882
save percentage. During the playoffs he was great – 88-36 with a
2.73 GAA and a .903 save percentage as he backstopped the Islanders
dynasty to four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983. Reggie
Jackson

His nickname – Mr. October – shows just how valuable he was in
the playoffs. Between the A’s, Yankees and Angels, Jackson appeared
in 77 postseason games. He batted .278, which was 16 points higher
than his career regular-season average. His playoff slugging
percentage and on-base plus slugging percentage also were
significantly higher in the playoffs than the regular season. He
blasted 18 homers in the postseason, including three in Game 6 of
the 1977 World Series that made him a postseason legend. Curt
Schilling

If Schilling ever makes the Hall of Fame, it will be on the
strength of his postseason numbers. Schilling won only 216 games in
20 big-league seasons (17 as a starter), but his playoff numbers
are stunning. In three postseasons with the Phillies, Diamondbacks
and Red Sox, he went 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA. In the World Series,
Schilling was even better: 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA. And, of course,
there is his courageous “Bloody Sock” performance in the 2004 ALCS
against the Yankees.