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.