While seasons can be organized by numbers, it's harder to do that with individual performances. There are numbers like Game Score, but Game Score doesn't take into account things like regular season vs. playoffs, or (spoilers!) how bloody your sock might end up. So, using only my entirely subjective opinions, here are the top 10 pitching performances of the Red Sox' decade.
The Great Performances
#10: 5/12/00 - Pedro Martinez – 9 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 15 K
In 2000, Pedro Martinez was unreal. A 1.74 ERA and 284 strikeouts over 217 innings in a year where there were seven batters with an OPS over 1. One friday night in May, Pedro showed some of his best stuff of his best year, destroying the Orioles. The O's managed to get hits in only the 5th inning against Pedro, and for the rest of the night they could barely touch the ball, striking out 15 times, 12 of them swinging.
#9: 5/25/01 - Hideo Nomo – 9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 14 K
Hideo Nomo is an odd case. I can think of no other pitcher who can look, at times, so dominant despite putting up almost exclusively average numbers on a season-long basis. 2001 was yet another average year for Nomo, and his only one with the Red Sox, but it is perhaps the best example of his on-off ways. Just over a month after a certain other notable game of his, Nomo blanked the Blue Jays, allowing only a leadoff double in the 4th inning. At one point, Nomo sat down 7 straight Jays on strikeouts, including Carlos Delgado, who would strikeout swinging 3 times that night.
#8: 8/29/00 - Pedro Martinez – 9 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 13 K
Pedro has never thrown an official no-hitter. In Montreal, he once carried a no-no through 9 innings, only to give up a hit in the 10th as the hapless Expos could score no runs for him. But the official blank in the hit column has always eluded him. That is not to say he hasn't gotten close. On August 29th, Pedro plunked leadoff batter Gerald Williams, who charged the mound. After Williams, the Devil Rays would send 24 men to the plate without reaching base once. It wasn't until lifetime .252 hitting catcher (and current Yankees broadcaster—apparently you get a job guarantee for hurting Pedro) John Flaherty lined a single into right field that Pedro's no-no dreams were once again dashed.
The Clutch Playoff Starts
#7: 10/18/07 – Josh Beckett – 8 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K
While 2004 is perhaps the most storied season of the decade, 2007 brought a championship just the same. Beckett had been an absolute warrior for the Red Sox that year, ending up 2nd in Cy Young voting, and had carried it into the postseason. After shutting down the Angels in the ALDS, Beckett won the first game of the ALCS with a dominant performance over the Indians. 3 games later, the Red Sox were on the verge of elimination, and in need of their ace. Beckett delivered in a big way, once again shutting down the Indians over the course of 8 innings, and setting the Red Sox up for their second big ALCS comeback and Championship of the decade.
#6: 10/20/04 – Derek Lowe – 6 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K
In game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, Derek Lowe began what would become the greatest comeback in the history of Major League Baseball. In game 7, Lowe finished it. On the surface, allowing the Yankees only 1 run on 1 hit over 6 innings is a good night as is. But it's the fact that Lowe managed this clutch performance on only 2 day's rest. In an era where pitching on 3 day's rest is considered a big deal, Lowe (who wasn't even expected to start in the postseason) did so much more on so much less.
#5: 10/19/04 – Curt Schilling – Bloody Sock Game
When a game is named, that name is often a lot more important than the numbers involved (in this case, 1 earned run in 7 innings pitched). That's certainly the case for this game. Taking the mound with a torn tendon sheath in his ankle stabilized by a brand new procedure, Schilling shut down the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS even as his stitches tore and his sock was stained red by his own blood. Schilling's gutsy start was the highlight of a postseason filled with clutch performances and heroics.
#4: 9/1/07 – Clay Buchholz – 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 9 K
On the first day of September, Clay Buchholz got the call to the mound the same day he got the call from the minors as rosters expanded. The top Red Sox prospect at the time, Clay not only didn't disappoint in his second major league appearance—he no-hit the Orioles. Befuddling the Birds with his willingness to throw his curveball and changeup no matter what the count, Clay managed to finish the night untouched thanks to a great play by Dustin Pedroia, striking out Nick Markakis looking to close it out.
#3: 4/27/02 – Derek Lowe – 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
In his first start in 2002, Lowe was 6 outs away from a no-hitter when Tony Batista hit an infield single. In his fifth start, nothing stopped him. Allowing only 1 baserunner—a walk to Brent Abernathy in the 4th—Lowe no-hit the Devil Rays on only 97 pitches—the highlight of the best year of his career.
#2: 4/4/01 – Hideo Nomo – 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 11 K
Game 1 of the 2001 Red Sox season was pretty disappointing. The Sox only managed 1 run on 5 hits—not enough to top the Orioles, who managed a walkoff win in the 11th inning. Game 2 of the 2001 Red Sox season was Hideo Nomo's second career no-hitter. Nomo didn't have perfect control, walking 3 batters, but he more than made up for it by dodging Oriole bats, striking out 8 of the last 13 batters.
#1: 5/19/08 - Jon Lester – 9 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 K
After the 2007 World Series, everyone was talking about Johan Santana. For a long time, the Red Sox were the favorites to get him, offering up packages involving either Clay Buchholz or Jon Lester. And for most people, the latter seemed preferable—Clay had just thrown a no-hitter, and Lester had only average results in 2 short seasons.
Cut to May, 2008. Clay Buchholz has come out of the gates looking for all the world like he's not ready to pitch in the Major Leagues. Lester, meanwhile, has his ERA down in the mid 3's, and has just thrown his own no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals.
It was not the cleanest game ever. Lester walked a couple of guys, and had a throwing error that allowed a baserunner in the 2nd inning. But thanks to a good play by Julio Lugo (GASP!) and a diving catch by Jacoby Ellsbury, Lester's night was a historic one.
It's hard to choose between 4 no-hitters. But Lester's wins out for a couple of reasons. First, the story behind it. There's no need to retread the entirety of Lester's fight with Cancer—we all know it well enough—but it's something that needs to be acknowledged. Second is what he's done since then. Lester made the transformation from top prospect to ace pitcher that night, and hasn't looked back. Nomo was always inconsistent, Lowe never recaptured his great 2002, and Buchholz is still finding his place in the league. But ever since Lester's no-no, he's been the guy for the Red Sox.
Some other performances deserved recognition, in my opinion. Here are 6 honorable mentions, in chronological order.
7/27/02 – John Burkett, of all people, shuts out the Orioles, giving up 4 hits and striking out 7.
10/4/03 – Derek Lowe has his first big clutch performance, keeping the ALDS alive by going 7 and giving up only 1 unearned run against the A's.
10/13/03 – Tim Wakefield gives up only 1 run against the Yankees over 7 innings, setting up a 2-2 tie in the ALCS.
6/7/07 – Curt Schilling takes the no-hitter to the very last out before shaking off Jason Varitek.
10/3/07 – Josh Beckett sets the table against the Angels, shutting them out in game 1 of the ALDS.
7/3/08 – Jon Lester shuts out the Yankees, giving up 5 hits and striking out 8.