Let me set the scene for you: It’s October 27, 1991 and Game 7 of the World Series between the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins is set to begin. The Braves are sending out 24 year old John Smoltz to start the deciding game against the Twins’ 36 year old Jack Morris (Insignificant, yet interesting, Smoltz was born May 15, Morris on May 16 of 1967 and 1955 respectively). Both pitchers had already pitched in the World Series, and specifically against each other in game 4. Morris and the Twins won game 1 behind Morris’ 7 innings of 2 run ball. Then Smoltz and Morris went toe to toe in game 4, which the Braves took 3-2. Morris pitched 6 innings giving up only 1 run on 6 hits, while the young John Smoltz mowed through 7 innings, giving up only 2 runs and striking out 7 (Neither Morris or Smoltz earned a decision). And now, its game 7 with the series tied 3-3 and the World Series trophy up for grabs. No bigger stage in baseball ever is set, and no bigger performance has ever been seen than what fans saw from Jack Morris.
Both Morris and Smoltz gave up their first hits in the 2nd inning, but neither had allowed a run. In the 3rd inning each had allowed a runner to reach 2nd base, but neither allowed them to score. Morris ran into some trouble in the top of the 5th, but got the Braves to strand 2 including a runner at 3rd base. John Smoltz was absolutely dealing on this night mowing down the Twins’ lineup, as he never faced more than 4 batters from the 3rd through 7th innings. Through 7 innings, the Twins and Braves were dead locked in a shutout. The top of the 8th saw the Braves threaten harder than ever before. With a lead off single followed by a double to left-center field, the Braves had 2nd and 3rd with no outs; prime scoring position. The veteran Jack Morris was still on the mound, and induced a weak groundout to 1B from the 3 hitter in the Braves lineup Ron Gant. Next, Morris intentionally walked David Justice bringing up Sid Bream with the bases loaded and 1 out. A sac fly scores one, a hit probably scores 2 and the Braves would be all that much closer to bringing home a championship. But Morris got Bream to hit a ground ball to first again where Kent Hrbek threw home to catcher Brian Harper, who launched it back to Hrbek at first for a 3-2-3 double play.
Inning over, no runs scored, shutout in tact, game salvaged. In the bottom of the 8th, the Twins also left 2 runners on after 1B Kent Hrbek lined into a double play to end the inning. Smoltz was removed from the game after 7.1 stellar innings, allowing just 6 hits and 1 walk and striking out 4. The 9th inning was rather uneventful compared to the previous, as Morris took care of the Braves in order and the Twins threatened but hit into yet another double play to end the scoring threat. 36 year old Jack Morris came back out to start the top of the 10th inning and immediately retired the Braves in succession with a foul-out, strikeout and a groundout. In the bottom of the 10th, Dan Gladden lead off with a double to left center, prompting Chuck Knoblauch to bunt him over to third on a successful sac bunt. Kirby Puckett then gets intentionally walked to set up 1st and 3rd with one out, a prime
double play ball situation. Then Jarvis Brown, the DH in the 5-hole, gets pinch-hit for and Gene Larkin steps up to the plate. Larkin launched the offering into deep left-center allowing Gladden to score, and the game was over; Twins 1, Braves 0 F/10.
The World Series was over; Twins 4, Braves 3.
Jack Morris’ final stat line reads: 10 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, W.
So reading through that, Morris’ game doesn’t sound like an all-time-great. He allowed quite a few base runners and got himself into trouble a few times. But was it an all-time great performance? Yes, absolutely. Game 7 of the World Series is the biggest stage in baseball, and pitching any amount of shutout innings is impressive. Let’s use Baseball Reference‘s fantastic Play-Index tool to find out just how rare Morris’ performance was.
There have been exactly 91 complete game shutouts in World Series play since 1903. Only 5 such games have occured after 1990, and only 3 such games since 2000, with only 1 since 2010. How about pitching 10 innings in a shutout in the World Series? That’s happened 3 times, and Jack Morris’ 1991 performance was the first time since Clem Labine in 1956 for the Brooklyn Dodgers (Christy Mathewson also did it for the New York Giants in 1913). How about how many complete game shutouts have there been in potential elimination games, such as Morris in 1991? 15 times since 1903, with only 2 games since 1990 (Morris in 1991, Curt Schilling in 1993). Also, there have only been 10 games since 1913 where a pitcher threw a complete game shutout in Game 7 of the World Series. Jack Morris’ 1991 performance is the most recent performance of that caliber.
Lastly, and the real kicker, is Jack Morris’ 1991 performance is the only game of its kind in MLB history. No other pitcher can claim 10 innings pitched in a World Series game 7. Not even filtering for a shutout, or by runs allowed at all. Morris is simply the only pitcher in game 7 history to pitch more than 9 innings. He tossed 126 pitches and 79 for strikes that night (62.7%) which seems relatively small for a 10 inning performance. For example, Johan Santana needed 134 pitches in 2012 for his 9 inning no-hitter.
Our recency bias as a generation is strong, and many people may not have actually seen Morris’ game (like me), so I’ll give a bit of context to cement my argument. In 2014, Madison Bumgarner put together a World Series performance for the ages and possibly, probably, the best all together World Series for a pitcher ever. His game 7 performance is regarded as heroic, unfathomable, and god-like. Bumgarner earned the save in game 7 in 2014 for 5 shutout innings of work, allowing 2 hits and striking out 4. Yes, MadBum’s incredible pitching in 2014 was the first shutout of more than 5 innings in a WS game 7 since Morris (and Smoltz) in 1991, but Morris pitched twice as many innings.
Jack Morris may not go down as one of the greatest pitchers of all time, but Morris delivered the best pitching performance of all time on baseball’s biggest stage just 25 years ago. Even the baseball fans of my generation should never let that performance fade into history.
**All of the information and statistics mentioned in this article are via Baseball Reference and their online tools for baseball statistics and more. **