It’s Adolis Garcia’s world right now, and we’re all just living in it. The Rangers outfielder was already putting together a playoffs for the ages, and then he went out and added his most memorable swing yet: a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th inning to steal Game 1 of the World Series on Friday night.
That swing raised Garcia’s postseason slash line to a comical .357/.400/.804, with eight homers and 22 RBI — the most runs ever driven in by a single player in a single playoffs. (The player he eclipsed? None other than Rangers’ Public Enemy No. 1 David Freese, who drove in 21 while propelling the Cardinals past Texas in the 2011 World Series.)
October has always been the month where big-leaguers earn their place in history, and Garcia — who, to be clear, had already established himself as a very good player — seems like the latest to turn himself into a household name on the sport’s biggest stage. But that begs the question: Just where does this run rank among the very best playoff performances in baseball history? We’ve assembled some top contenders below; you be the judge.
Best postseason performances in MLB history
Randy Arozarena, Tampa Bay Rays, 2020
Arozarena entered the 2020 playoffs having played just 42 MLB games; he left it a superstar. The then-25-year-old was a man possessed, setting new records for homers (10) and total bases (64) while slashing a cool .377/.442/.831. He carried Tampa to their first AL pennant since 2008, and he became the first rookie position player to take home an LCS or World Series MVP Award after wearing out the Astros in the ALCS — including a first-inning homer to set the tone in Game 7.
Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals, 2019
Strasburg’s postseason reputation was already well-established — never forget the 2017 Flu Game — but he one-upped himself in the Nats’ run to the title in 2019. Strasburg’s incredible October began with three scoreless innings of relief in the NL Wild Card Game, followed by five more starts in which he earned four wins and never allowed more than three runs. The masterpiece? 8.1 innings of two-run ball against the Astros in a win-or-go-home World Series Game 6.
Strasburg finished the month 5-0, the first pitcher to win five games without a loss in a single postseason. (He also struck out 47 batters, tying him for the second-most all-time.)
Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants, 2014
If you look up workhorse in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of Bumgarner in 2014. The lefty wasn’t just dominant; he was dominant while filling every possible hole on San Francisco’s staff, basically carrying the Giants to their third world title in five years. Bumgarner went at least seven innings in each of his six starts, allowing no more than three runs in any of them and including two shutouts — one in a winner-take-all Wild Card Game against the Pirates, and another against the Royals in Game 5 of the World Series Game 5. His Fall Classic was far from over, though: Things eventually went to a Game 7 three nights later, and when the chips were down, manager Bruce Bochy turned to his ace one more time on short rest to protect a 3-2 lead.
Bumgarner did just that, firing five scoreless innings and stranding the game-tying run on third base to close it out in the ninth.
David Freese, St. Louis Cardinals, 2011
Maybe Garcia’s heroics and the rest of this playoff run will make this one hurt less for Rangers fans. Okay, we doubt it, but Freese more than earned his place on this list with his unreal run in 2011. Playing for his hometown team, the infielder came up big just about every time the Cardinals needed him, driving in four runs in a win-or-go-home scenario against the Phillies in NLDS Game 4, then batting .545 with three homers and nine RBIs to drive the Cardinals past the Brewers and earn NLCS MVP honors.
Somehow, though, he was just getting started. Freese’s Game 6 of the World Series is possibly the greatest-ever performance in a single postseason game in MLB history: He played hero not once but twice, saving St. Louis’ season with a game-tying triple with two outs in the ninth and then sending everybody home with a walk-off homer in the 11th:
Freese still wasn’t done, starting the scoring in Game 7 the next night with a two-run double as the Cardinals rallied back to beat the Rangers in an instant-classic series. Freese’s 21 RBIs across October 2011 set a single-postseason record, and he became the sixth player to be named MVP of both the LCS and World Series rounds.
Carlos Beltran, Houston Astros, 2004
Houston acquired Beltran from the Royals in the summer of 2004 to help lead their postseason push, and it’s safe to say that worked out. The 27-year-old launched 23 homers over the season’s final 90 games to help Houston make it to October, and once there, he really caught fire, hitting .435 with an MLB-record-tying eight home runs over just 12 games — including one stretch of five straight games with a dinger. It wasn’t enough to get the Astros past the Cardinals in the NLCS, but that’s hardly on Beltran.
Josh Beckett, Florida Marlins, 2003
No one gave the Marlins much of a chance against the big, bad Yankees in the 2003 World Series, but little did everyone know that the Fish had a 23-year-old ace in the hole. Beckett got knocked around by the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLCS, but from that point on he was nails, throwing an 11-K shoutout in a do-or-die Game 5 and then coming out of the bullpen on two days’ rest to throw four scoreless innings of one-run ball in the decisive Game 7 at Wrigley Field. Then, in the Fall Classic, came one of the greatest individual pitching performances in recent memory: a nine-strikeout, five-hit shutout in Yankee Stadium to clinch the World Series in Game 6.
Barry Bonds, San Francisco Giants, 2002
Bonds never did capture that elusive World Series ring, but you can’t say it wasn’t for lack of trying. He entered the 2002 Fall Classic against the Angels as the best hitter on the planet, the focus of every scouting report, knowing that Los Angeles would try to force anyone else to beat them. And yet, despite all that, Bonds still went off, going deep four times and finishing his lone World Series with a .471 average and a 1.994 OPS — a performance that would go down in history were it not for the fact that San Francisco blew a late lead in Game 6 and then fell just short in Game 7. Still, we’ll always have this moonshot off of Troy Percival:
Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2001
Arizona’s lone previous trip to the World Series was a stone-cold classic, as the Snakes foiled the Yankees’ bid at a four-peat thanks to one of the great joint pitching performances of all-time. The D-backs’ co-aces accounted for nearly 60% of the team’s innings pitched in October, and they combined to go 9-1 with a 1.30 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 89.2 innings of work. Schilling didn’t allow more than two runs in any of his six starts, racking up a postseason-record 56 strikeouts. Johnson’s 47 Ks are still tied for the second most in one postseason, and his six appearances included a shutout apiece in the NLCS and World Series rounds.
Orel Hershiser, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1988
While Johnson and Schilling had each other to lean on, though, Hershiser more or less carried the Dodgers to an improbable title all by himself. The man known as “Bulldog” fully earned that nickname with an instantly iconic October run — beginning in the NLCS, where he started Games 1 and 3, then came out of the bullpen on zero days’ rest for a one-out save in Game 4, then came back and shut out the Mets two days later in Game 7.
He kept it up in the World Series, tossing another shutout against the fearsome A’s on three days’ rest in Game 2 and then finishing Oakland off with a two-run complete game in Game 5.
Reggie Jackson, New York Yankees, 1977
It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Jackson had just four hits in his first 25 postseason at-bats in 1977, with no homers and just two RBI. But he’s known as Mr. October for a reason: Reggie homered in each of the final three games of the World Series against the Dodgers, three on three swings in the decisive Game 6, still arguably the greatest single-game performance in playoff history.
Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1965
There are other candidates here, including Bob Gibson and Mickey Lolich dueling in the 1968 World Series. In the end, though, no list like this would be complete without Koufax, who had already won World Series MVP honors in 1963 but vaulted into legend in ‘65. He started Games 2, 5 and 7 of that year’s Fall Classic against the Twins, tossing 18 scoreless innings over those last two outings and finishing with a 0.38 ERA, 29 strikeouts and five walks in 24 innings overall. In the title-clinching Game 7, Koufax threw a three-hit shutout while walking three and striking out 10.
Lou Gehrig, New York Yankees, 1928
These lists are necessarily skewed towards the modern era, where players have significantly more postseason games in which to author iconic moments and accrue stats. But don’t let that mask what Gehrig did in the 1928 Fall Classic: The Iron Horse’s 2.433 OPS (no, that’s not a typo) remains the highest by any full-time player in a single World Series, homering four times with nine RBI in a four-game sweep of the Cardinals.