Ben Walker, AP Baseball Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — No wonder Nolan Ryan grabbed a ball and headed to the mound. That’s the place for any ace right now.
With pitchers ruling these playoffs, Matt Cain turned in the latest gem. He combined with a couple of Giants relievers to blank Philadelphia 3-0 Tuesday in the NL championship series.
That made it six shutouts — a half-dozen, count ’em! — in only 22 games this postseason.
Cliff Lee appears almost untouchable. Tim Lincecum looks every bit a two-time NL Cy Young winner. Roy Halladay followed up his perfect game in May with a no-hitter in his playoff debut.
Ryan, naturally, likes what he sees. The all-time leader in strikeouts and no-hitters brought the heat, too, with the ceremonial first ball before Game 1 of the ALCS against the Yankees. The part-owner and president of the Texas Rangers disdained the usual soft toss and instead cranked it up for a blazer that got the home crowd buzzing.
“I think you are seeing a trend in baseball — more emphasis on starting pitching,” Ryan said before Game 4 Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. “This year seems to be the year that it has turned.”
Even before October arrived, this was the Year of the Pitcher. Five no-hitters in the regular season that included two perfectos, the highest strikeout rate in major league history, plus the best ERA and lowest batting average since 1992.
That’s a far cry from the daily slugfests of the Steroids Era. And it’s gotten even sharper since this month, with constant shout outs for the shutouts. Add in, too, five times in these playoffs when teams were limited to a lone run.
Put it this way: There were a total of two shutouts in the postseason last year and just one in 2008.
The record for shutouts in a postseason is eight, set in 32 games in 1981, STATS LLC said. There was an extra round that year — a summer players’ strike prompted MLB to create a format where the first-half winners in each division played the second-half champ. Ryan pitched in those best-of-five pairings, winning the opener for Houston and losing the opener to the Dodgers.
There were seven shutouts in 35 games in 2001. The six this year are tied for the third most — that was the total in 2006 and 1998, both in 30 games.
Cole Hamels threw a five-hitter to blank Cincinnati in the Phillies’ first-round clincher. Then Cain outdueled the 2008 World Series MVP in Game 3 of the San Francisco-Philadelphia matchup.
“We came in the series and everybody built us up as a pitching series, and so far the three games that’s what we’ve seen. I mean, it’s definitely been pitching. That’s what has dictated the game,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
That’s about what Giants center fielder Aaron Rowand expected.
“In the postseason, you’re going to face great pitching every game,” he said.
AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley and AP freelance writers Gerry Beatty and Michael Wagaman contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.