A few days ago at Fangraphs, Miles Wray wrote about the five greatest pitching performances of 2014 that came in a loss. I thought I’d put a Dodger twist on this, and throw in some historical perspective as well.
Here are the five greatest pitching performances during a loss in Los Angeles Dodger history, dating back to 1958 and using, as Wray did, Win Probability Added as the measurement. Continue past the five for a couple of bonus epics, including one that will make your jaw drop …
5) Orel Hershiser: September 28, 1988
Padres 2, Dodgers 1 (16)
This is the one most of you will remember, the game in which Hershiser broke the big-league record for consecutive scoreless innings with 59. In his final outing of the 1988 regular season, Hershiser threw 10 innings at San Diego and allowed four hits and walk. Somewhat shockingly, he struck out only three, making it through his 10 innings on 116 pitches. How? Hershiser induced a whopping 22 outs on grounders. The Dodgers took a 1-0 lead in the top of the 16th thanks to an unearned run, but Ricky Horton surrendered a two-out, two-run homer to Mark Parent in the bottom of the 16th.
4) Don Sutton: May 7, 1972
Expos 1, Dodgers 0 (12)
This came during Sutton’s remarkable and remarkably underrated 1972 hot streak. Sutton took a no-hitter into the seventh inning (before Bob Bailey singled for the host Expos), finishing with 10 innings of one-hit ball while walking four, hitting one and — sound familiar? — striking out three. Montreal scored an unearned run in the bottom of the 12th to make a winner of future Dodger reliever Mike Marshall, who threw three shutout innings. Los Angeles left 13 runners on base.
3) Orel Hershiser: June 3, 1989
Astros 5, Dodgers 4 (22)
The true oddity among these five, Hershiser didn’t even enter the game until the 14th inning, but then had the unique opportunity to face 26 consecutive batters that could have ended the game with one swing. Hershiser allowed three hits and three walks while striking out eight — retiring the last 13 batters he faced — before third baseman Jeff Hamilton took the mound and survived the 21st inning before losing in the 22nd.
2) Fernando Valenzuela: September 6, 1985
Mets 2, Dodgers 0 (13)
In absolutely one of the most memorable pitching duels I’ve ever witnessed, 20-year-old Dwight Gooden and the 24-year-old Valenzuela matched zeroes for nine innings, with Valenzuela going two innings beyond. From the eighth through the 11th inning, Valenzuela faced the minimum 12 Mets, completing a six-hit, three-walk, five-strikeout performance. (Gooden struck out 10 and walked none, matching Valenzuela with an 87 game score). A two-run double by Darryl Strawberry off Tom Niedenfuer in the 13th put the Mets over the top.
1) Don Sutton: September 17, 1976 (Game 1)
Braves 1, Dodgers 0 (12)
Bidding for his first 20-victory season, Sutton did all you could have hoped for, going 11 innings and allowing three walks, five singles and a double, while striking out six. Los Angeles went scoreless in what was the first game of a doubleheader; in the nightcap, the Dodgers scored 11 runs. “I’ve got no gripes, no complaints,” Sutton, who had won 12 of his past 13 decisions, told Ross Newhan of the Times afterward. “Things have been going my way for a long time.” But it’s not like Sutton hadn’t earned his wins: In his most recent eight starts, he had allowed eight earned runs, averaging 9.1 innings per outing with a 0.99 ERA. The setback was temporary for Sutton, who would allow one run in 18 innings over his next two starts, both complete games, to reach 21 wins on the season.
Bonus: Top game scores in losing effort
1t) Bill Singer: June 4, 1969 (Game Score: 93)
Mets 1, Dodgers 0 (15)
On July 20, 1970, Singer would throw a 10-strikeout no-hitter with no walks, spoiled only by his hitting a batter and making an error. A year earlier, he offered quite the prelude, also striking out 10 while surrendering two hits (no walks) and hitting one batter. In the top of the seventh, Bud Harrelson of the Mets made it to third base with two out — and was picked off by catcher Tom Haller. The game ended on a fielding error by center fielder Willie Davis in the bottom of the 15th.
1t) Sandy Koufax: May 28, 1960 (Game Score: 93)
Cubs 4, Dodgers 3 (14)
Koufax is the only pitcher featured in this post who actually took the loss. A two-out, bottom-of-the-ninth homer by the Cubs’ Frank Thomas (preceded by an unearned run in the sixth) deprived Koufax of a clean victory in regulation. In the end, Koufax walked the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the 14th inning before finally giving way to Ed Roebuck, who ultimately gave up a one-out, bases-loaded, bloop single to … Don Zimmer. Zimmer was batting .179 at the time.
Those two walks by the 24-year-old Koufax were his eighth and ninth of the game, to go with 15 strikeouts. In short, it was not your typical three-hitter …
Incredibly, Koufax had nearly been scratched from the start, 15 minutes before his 198-pitch odyssey began. “Sandy couldn’t get loose warming up,” Dodger manager Walter Alston told Frank Finch of the Times. (I can’t imagine why Koufax would develop arm trouble in his career.)
Four hours and 49 batters later, when he walked off the mound for the final time that day, the Cubs fans — those who remained from the original 13,605 who arrived at Wrigley Field that Saturday afternoon — gave Koufax a standing ovation.