Cliff Lee and Matt Cain Pitch Into History

Last night, Cliff Lee and Matt Cain put on a pitching duel for the ages. Cain threw shutout nine innings on just 91 pitches before Bruce Bochy pinch-hit for him, while Lee managed to go 10 scoreless innings and still only throw 102 pitches on the night. They combined to allow just 10 baserunners in 19 innings pitched, and after Brett Pill‘s leadoff double in the fifth, they put down 24 consecutive batters between them.

You just don’t get two dominating performances in the same game all that often. In fact, you could make a case that this was the best pair of performances in a single game in the last 10 years.

The last time two pitchers faced off and both threw nine inning shutouts was last May, when Jason Vargas and Zach Britton squared off in Baltimore. Both were extremely effective and efficient, but neither of them pitched into the 10th inning, and they only combined for nine strikeouts on the night – plus, even with the offensive struggles SF and PHI have had this year, neither of them can match the 2011 Mariners for futility at the plate, so Britton’s performance is slightly diminished due to the quality of his opponent.

The Phillies were actually involved in another classic pitching duel two years ago, as Roy Halladay and Travis Wood matched zeroes for nine innings before giving way to the bullpens. In fact, Wood was one base hit and a little run support away from a perfect game, so Halladay’s 9 IP/0 R/1 BB/9 K performance was actually the second best outing of the evening. If either Wood or Halladay had pitched into the 10th, this would likely rate ahead of last night’s duel, but given that Lee got three more outs and threw 15 fewer pitches, I have to give the nod – just barely – to the Cain/Lee duel.

Before 2010, MLB hadn’t seen a game where both starters went 9 IP with 0 R allowed since September of 2003, when the Tigers and Blue Jays locked up in a battle between Nate Cornejo and, once again, Roy Halladay. Halladay was awesome, throwing 10 scoreless innings on just 99 pitches and getting 21 ground ball outs in the process. Cornejo was somewhat less awesome, as he gave up five hits and walked a couple of batters while racking up two strikeouts. While any nine inning shutout is impressive in its own way, Cornejo’s doesn’t stack up to what either Cain or Lee did last night.

To find a pair of performances on par with last night’s match-up, we probably have to go back to August 28, 1999, when Kevin Millwood matched up with Darren Oliver. Oliver was excellent, throwing nine scoreless innings, allowing just six baserunners and striking out six batters in the prcoess, but Millwood was even better – 10 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 9 K. More impressively, he did this against a line-up that featured Mark McGwire, Ray Lankford, the good version of Fernando Tatis, J.D. Drew, and Edgar Renteria.

What Cain and Lee did last night was special. You don’t see that kind of pitcher’s duel very often, and there showdown was one of the best in recent history. Hats off to both of them.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

73 Responses to “Cliff Lee and Matt Cain Pitch Into History”

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  1. nik says:

    Great duel, and if this was the AL, both pitchers would probably be able to go a few more innings.

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    • Big Daddy V says:

      Unless they had to use more pitches because they were trying to get out the DH, rather than each other.

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    • antonio bananas says:

      pft, if this were the AL East they would have only lasted 3 innings because the quality of the lineups there are so much better than anywhere else in the universe or in history.

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  2. Tyler says:

    Is there anywhere that tracks average pitches per inning? I’d like to see that.

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  3. hscer says:

    Yeah, but who won?

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  4. TKDC says:

    The 1999 Braves (Darren Oliver’s opponent) were a pretty good offensive team, too. I seem to remember some guy named Larry winning the MVP that year.

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  5. Graham says:

    Cain’s numbers over his last two starts:
    18 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 15 K, 0 R. (The three hits were all singles.)

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    • jorgath says:

      Dear sweet gods of baseball! How many cows has he been sacrificing?

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      • matt w says:

        One of them was the cow that lets you start against the Pirates.

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      • Kellin says:

        That cow that was once the most difficult and sought after has become much more common due to the efforts of the Mariners, A’s and Astros…

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  6. Phantom Stranger says:

    This was a great game to watch, though of course MLB Extra Innings watchers got shafted by missing the first several innings because it was on the same channel as the Yankees game that ran late and the person running it forgot to switch over until halfway through the game.

    What made it more impressive was the brutal defense behind Lee. Manuel was playing a lot of questionable defenders like Lance Nix at first. Nix almost cost the game by himself on multiple occasions.

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  7. nathan but a g thang says:

    Last I checked, the Giants weren’t struggling offensively.

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  8. monkey business says:

    Cliff Lee + clutch = Jack Morris

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  9. It wasn’t better than Frank Viola versus Ron Darling!

    Boola boola, Eli Yale.

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  10. short says:

    So I’m sitting in the third deck at this game, and as the lineups are announced I realize how decimated the Phillies are and how…Giantsy the Giants are. I say to the guy next to me “Man with Cliff Lee and Matt Cain this thing could end up 1-0 in 11.” So I guess to say that the score was unpredictable would be to go a bit too far.

    What was notable about watching this game was just how amazingly fast this it was. This was a duel of guys who pitch to more contact than most top-flight pitchers do. So while watching it what stood out was not the awesome pitching, but the number of innings that had gone by while you were getting a beer. If the game had ended in the bottom of the ninth, it would have taken less time than my drive to the game. It wasn’t until the pitchers were in the 10th that you looked at their pitch counts and marvelled at how proficient they had been. This was a treat.

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  11. Derek in Little Rock says:

    By “good version” of Fernando Tatis, you mean “steroid enhanced”.

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    • Franco says:

      He got washed up after that and came back to being good with the Mets for a year or so in the post steroid era.

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  12. hildebeast21 says:

    there showdown was one of the best in recent history.
    there = their

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  13. Will says:

    Odd post. Great night of pitching, but I don’t really think they’ve “pitched into history” given that no one instantly would remember similar performances, as highlighted by some of the random names on the list.

    No one alive was watching that game and thinking, “man, this reminds me of Vargas v Britton!”

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    • Chris R says:

      I think he is referring to the games pitched by non-HOFers. Although I was at the aforementioned Halladay-Wood game, and I will not forget Wood’s performance.

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      • Franco says:

        I honestly don’t even remember a pitcher by the name of Travis Wood, let alone the game he pitched.

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  14. baycommuter says:

    A lot of people in San Francisco remember the Spahn-Marichal game when they both pitched shutouts into the 15th.

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    • Brent says:

      16th. Marichal went all 16, and Spahn gave up a home run to Wille Mays with one out in the bottom of the 16th, so technically he went 15.1 innings. CG for both of them. July 2nd, 1963. No pitch counts back then, but each club had 55+ plate appearances, so you have to figure each pitcher threw over 200 pitches. You’ll never see that again. Oh, yeah. Spahn was 42.

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  15. Malcolm says:

    Hey Dave
    What about top duels all time? Gibson and Spahn for 18 innings, 1-0?

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    • Verklemptomaniac says:

      Harvey Haddix/Lew Burdette has to be up there.

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      • gonfalon says:

        yes indeed:

        Lew Burdette scattered 12 singles over 13 IP (with 0 BB and 2 K), while Harvey Haddix was perfect thru 12, with 8 K.

        in the bottom of the 13th, Haddix lost the perfect game when Felix Mantilla reached base via Don Hoak’s error, and the next batter bunted him to 2nd. after intentionally walking Hank Aaron for runners on 1st and 2nd with 1 out, Haddix lost the game on the first hit he allowed, a double to Joe Adcock.

        Incredibly, Adcock was out after overrunning(?) second base, and in the meantime Mantilla scored the only run of the game.

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    • monkey business says:

      That was 16 innings. Walter Johnson did pitch an 18 inning complete game shutout. Williams also recorded an 18 inning complete game, but gave up one more run.

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  16. ettin says:

    On May 10, 2009, Joe Saunders and Zack Greinke had a fantastic pitcher’s duel as well but Greinke only lasted 8 innings, but it was a real gem to watch.

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  17. tyke says:

    game scores? also, what would be some of the best pitching duels ever, by combined game scores?

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    • tyke says:

      cain’s was 86 last night, lee’s was 85. against the pirates on 4/13, cain’s was 96 (!), by far the best pitching performance this year

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  18. DrBGiantsfan says:

    Too bad it wasn’t a complete game for either pitcher. I’m pretty sure Matt Cain is very close to a record for least number of baserunners in consecutive 9 inning starts. It would be easier to confirm if it was consecutive CG’s.

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  19. Nick says:

    Off topic a bit, but there was actually a historical pitching performance last night: Bartolo Colon through 38 consecutive pitches for strikes. I’ve never heard of anything like this at any level of baseball, and was wondering if anyone could recall anything like this ever happening before.
    Jonny Gomes had a great quote after the game, “You can’t even get 38 straight strikes out of a pitching machine.”

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  20. DavidJ says:

    Why did Manuel let his pitcher bat in the ninth inning of a tie game? I don’t get it, and I’m surprised not to see more discussion about it.

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    • Larry Yocum says:

      I was upset that Bochy pulled Cain.

      Both were at around 90 pitches. Both probably could have gone 12 last night with their pitch counts and the pace of this game. Not only was their count low, but I believe the entire 11 inning game was played in under 3 hours, so they were not taxed at all.

      Why would you pull a guy completely dominating when you have no idea how long the game is going to last? Especially at such a low pitch count. It made a little bit more sense for the home team to sell out for that 1 run, but I can totally understand leaving Lee in there and the Giants probably should have done the same with Cain.

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    • hk says:

      Because his pitcher had thrown 80 or so pitches and he is a better hitter than most of the players on the Phillies bench.

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      • DavidJ says:

        The Phillies had Jim Thome on their bench. That’s the exact kind of situation that you have Jim Thome on your bench for.

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  21. schlomsd says:

    Is there anywhere that tracks advanced pitching stats (FIP, xFIP, etc) per start? I’m wondering what those numbers would be for Cain as he didn’t have many strikeouts (13.8 SO%), his BABIP was low (.071) and he gave up 16 flyball with no homeruns. I’m guessing that last night raised his FIP and xFIP.

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    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      He’s gonna regress any game now!

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      • y says:

        Because so many people are saying that. Other than Giants fans with a persecution complex.

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      • CJ says:

        My goodness. He’s quoting statistics from THIS start. The one where Cain threw a shutout. Do you genuinely think he’s not going to regress?

        Based on your comment, you don’t think it’s likely. So, put your money where your mouth is. I will bet you any amount of money you like that Cain does not throw shutouts for 50% of his remaining starts (if a shutout is his true talent, you can imagine sometimes he throws worse and sometimes he throws better).


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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        Do you really think I didn’t know he was talking about this one start? The point is, there have been multiple articles on this site over the past 2 years practically obssessing over Matt Cain’s xFIP and whether it means he is going to regress or not and he just keeps getting better and better. Who the hell gives a damn about what anybody’s xFIP for one game is anyway?! Why would you even need to look at an xFIP to know that a pitcher is not going to put up an ERA of 0.00 for the year?

        I was just pointing out the absurdity of the comment and linking it to the absurdity of continuing to use xFIP as a reason for saying Matt Cain is going to regress.

        Obviously some people here are too sensitive about the whole thing to see the humor in it.

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    • bstar says:

      That says all you need to know about FIP and xFIP.

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  22. Scott says:

    Best game I ever saw: Dave Stewart 11 inning CG vs. 10 IP from Eric Hanson. Game time was 2:38.

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  23. Manque69 says:

    The best game I ever saw: Kerry Wood’s 20K game. This was actually my first game ever at Wrigley. Shane Reynolds was no slouch in this game either. He went the distance with 10 Ks and 1 earned run.

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  24. Micah says:

    What about Roy Halladay’s perfect game? Josh Johnson only gave up a run on a 3 base error by the center fielder. Otherwise they were both almost perfect that game.

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  25. Aaron (UK) says:

    There’s a great blog on the pinch-hit decision Manuel made in the 11th here – he should have gone with Polanco not Thome to pinch-hit for Lee.

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  26. antonio bananas says:

    No mention of smoltz vs Morris? I know Jack “pitch to the score” Morris is insanely overrated but come on. Unless I’m missing something here.

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    • gonfalon says:

      agreed… a 10-inning, 1-0 shutout in game 7 of the World Series is worth noting, even if Smoltz “only” went 7 1/3 IP.

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  27. David K says:

    See thsi articel for some fairly recent great pitching matchups:

    When I read this article, I immediately thought of game #3 on this list, since i was in attendance. If I recall, Schilling didn’t even get to a 3-ball count on a single hitter, and Brown got to a 3-ball count on only two hitters. A total of 5 baserunners allowed via hit or walk between the two pitchers for the entire game was pretty remarkable. I am pretty sure the game ended in under 2 hours.

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