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The Best-Pitched Game Against the Cardinals of All-Time

Eight pitchers have no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals. But no pitcher has ever dominated them like Corey Kluber did Wednesday night in Cleveland.
Kluber struck out 18 of the 26 batters he faced (69%) over eight innings, walking none and allowing only a single. Mind you, that’s not merely putting out 69% of the batters he faced — something Kluber’s mound counterpart, John Lackey, would’ve been glad for — that’s singlehandedly and completely preventing them from even trying to reach. Those negative pitching numbers you see in the Fangraphs box score — -1.12 tERA, -7.00 FIP,  -0.27 xFIP — are no error: That’s how literally incalculable Kluber’s performance was. His only slip was plunking Matt Holliday in the first inning.
Success against one’s team is often difficult to acknowledge, much less celebrate. But we make an exception for this, because it was truly historic. Kluber’s gem was likely the best-pitched game against the Cardinals in history. Let’s put it in context by first listing the no-hitters, traditionally considered to be the pitching performances par excellence, by their Fielding Independent Game Scores (* indicates a game in a doubleheader):
Rk Player Date Tm IP H R ER BB SO HR BF FIGS
1 Gaylord Perry 9/17/68 SFG 9 0 0 0 2 9 0 29 70
1 Don Cardwell * 5/15/60 CHC 9 0 0 0 1 7 0 28 70
3 Hod Eller 5/11/19 CIN 9 0 0 0 3 8 0 28 66
4 David Palmer * 4/21/84 MON 5 0 0 0 0 2 0 15 64
5 Fernando Valenzuela 6/29/90 LAD 9 0 0 0 3 7 0 30 62
5 Sam Jones 9/26/59 SFG 7 0 0 0 2 5 0 23 62
7 Johan Santana 6/1/12 NYM 9 0 0 0 5 8 0 32 56
8 Tom Seaver 6/16/78 CIN 9 0 0 0 3 3 0 30 54
As far as no-hitters go, these haven’t exactly been the most transcendent, with Gaylord Perry’s and Don Cardwell’s games topping out at 70 FIGS. For reference, that’s a score that Lance Lynn has already matched twice this season alone (73, 5/1; 71, 4/8). So it’s safe to say that, even before Kluber, pitchers had thrown better games against the Cardinals than any of the no-nos. Let’s now look at the best-pitched games against the Cardinals overall:
Rk Player Date Tm IP BB SO HR BF FIGS
1 Corey Kluber 5/13/15 CLE 8 0 18 0 26 94
2 Sid Fernandez 9/21/89 NYM 9 0 13 0 29 84
3 Roy Parmelee* 7/2/33 NYG 9 0 13 0 30 83
4 Dennis Bennett 9/14/62 PHI 9 0 13 0 31 82
5 Steve Carlton 9/13/82 PHI 9 0 12 0 29 82
6 Rick Sutcliffe 6/24/84 CHC 9 1 14 0 33 79
6 Gary Nolan 7/19/67 CIN 7 0 12 0 26 79
6 Carl Hubbell* 7/2/33 NYG 18 0 12 0 59 79
9 John Montefusco 4/28/76 SFG 8 0 12 0 30 78
9 Frank Castillo 9/25/95 CHC 9 2 13 0 29 78
11 Fred Norman 5/7/74 CIN 9 1 13 0 33 77
11 Randy Johnson 6/25/99 ARI 9 2 14 0 32 77
13 Tom Seaver 9/30/71 NYM 9 1 13 0 34 76
13 Ben McDonald 6/16/97 MIL 8 1 12 0 29 76
13 Nolan Ryan 8/31/71 NYM 6 1 12 0 23 76
13 Jerry Koosman* 7/21/68 NYM 9 1 12 0 32 76
13 Chris Short 9/10/64 PHI 9 1 12 0 32 76
13 Don Drysdale 8/31/64 LAD 9 0 12 0 35 76
13 Turk Farrell 7/20/62 HOU 9 0 12 0 35 76
13 Pete Alexander 5/15/15 PHI 9 0 12 0 35 76
21 Sandy Koufax* 8/16/64 LAD 9 1 13 0 35 75
21 Carl Hubbell* 8/29/33 NYG 9 1 12 0 33 75
21 Cole Hamels 8/3/06 PHI 7 2 12 0 24 75
Pre-Kluber, Sid Fernandez owned the top game. We actually remember that game, since it was during our misspent youth as a Mets fan. But as dominant as El Sid was, striking out 13 Cardinals, he paled in comparison to Kluber. In fact, Kluber’s 94 FIGS was so high, it’s not only the best against the Cardinals, it’s one of the best all-time. Best games by FIGS since 1914:
Rk Player Date Tm Opp IP BB SO HR BF FIGS
1 Kerry Wood 5/6/98 CHC HOU 9 0 20 0 29 98
1 Randy Johnson 5/8/01 ARI CIN 9 0 20 0 29 98
3 Roger Clemens 9/18/96 BOS DET 9 0 20 0 32 95
4 Corey Kluber 5/13/15 CLE STL 8 0 18 0 26 94
5 Roger Clemens 8/25/98 TOR KCR 9 0 18 0 30 93
6 Johan Santana 8/19/07 MIN TEX 8 0 17 0 26 92
6 Luis Tiant 7/3/68 CLE MIN 10 0 19 0 36 92
8 David Cone 10/6/91 NYM PHI 9 1 19 0 31 91
9 Ramon Martinez 6/4/90 LAD ATL 9 1 18 0 31 89
10 Sam McDowell 5/1/68 CLE OAK 9 0 16 0 31 88
11 Nolan Ryan 7/9/72 CAL BOS 9 1 16 0 29 87
11 Randy Johnson 4/21/02 ARI COL 9 1 17 0 31 87
11 Dwight Gooden 9/12/84 NYM PIT 9 0 16 0 32 87
11 Vida Blue 7/9/71 OAK CAL 11 0 17 0 40 87
If we consider Kerry Wood’s 1998 masterpiece to be the standard bearer for pitching performances, please note that Kluber actually struck out a higher percentage of batters faced (69.2%) than Wood did (69.0%). That alone merits strong Kluber’s outing consideration as the best all-time.
It’s never fun to be the victim in an historic event like a no-hitter or one of the best-pitched games of all-time (or of a triple play, as the Cardinals were last weekend). But in the end, it’s simply one loss (or one inning), and fans of perennial winners like the Cardinals can be gracious to tip the cap to those who reach greatness at their expense. Here’s to you, Corey Kluber, for the best-ever pitching performance against the Cardinals and one of the best all-time. May you enjoy continued success — against the American League.

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