Monday, October 18, 2010
Thoughts: Cliff Lee masterful in Game 3
By Richard Durrett
The Rangers crushed the Yankees, 8-0, in Game 3 of the ALCS behind a typically brilliant performance by Cliff Lee, some early runs and then an avalanche of six insurance runs in the ninth. They'll take a 2-1 lead in the series into Tuesday night. Some quick thoughts on Game 3:
* It was a sensational performance by Lee in a postseason history full of them. The guy has been automatic in the playoffs. How else do you say it? He was dominant again on Monday. He had his usual excellent command, including the very effective cutter. He kept the Yankees off-balance, mixing speeds and locations of his fastballs, something he does better than most in the majors. But that cutter was going to all parts of the plate and had good movement. Lee has actually gotten better in each postseason start. Makes you wonder what he might do in a Game 7, doesn't it?
"It was a pretty good game," said Lee, when asked about his performance on TBS after the game. "Anytime you can get that deep in the game without giving up a run, you've got to be pretty pleased about it."
Cliff Lee outdid himself with Monday's performance in New York, striking out 13 Yankees and allowing just two hits.
Pretty good? That's underselling it.
* How good was his stuff? Well, for the third straight postseason game, Lee had more than 10 strikeouts, this time 13. He's the first pitcher to have three 10 or more strikeouts in the same postseason and the second to do it three times in a row (Bob Gibson over two seasons was the other). His 10th was a strikeout of Derek Jeter in the sixth with a runner at second and no outs, blowing a high fastball right by him. Lee used the curve a lot midway through Game 5 of the ALDS against Tampa. He didn't use it quite as much Monday, but did get a few strikeouts with it.
* According to Elias Sports Bureau, Lee's 28 strikeouts before issuing his first walk this postseason are the most playoff strikeouts before a walk in big league history, blistering the mark of 17 by Josh Beckett in 2007 for the Red Sox.
* The win puts the Rangers up 2-1 in the series and with Lee looming for a Game 7 if needed and the inconsistent A.J. Burnett going in Game 4 for the Yankees. The Rangers scored two in the first and a whopping six in the ninth (more on that later in this entry). How often do you see Yankee fans leaving a postseason game early? It happened on Monday.
* The closest thing the Yankees came to a scoring opportunity off Lee was the sixth, when Brett Gardner led off with a single. He stole second, but Lee struck out Jeter and got Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira to ground out to end the threat. Before that, the Yankees had just two base runners in the first five innings (a two-out Teixeira walk and a two-out flare to right by Jorge Posada for the first hit of the game for New York).
* The second inning was particularly impressive for Lee. He got Alex Rodriguez on a knee-knocking cutter that had A-Rod headed to the dugout immediately after he saw it, knowing it was a strike. Robinson Cano hit a soft liner to short as he broke his bat and it was an easy play for Elvis Andrus, and Marcus Thames struck out on a cutter.
* Lee also showed off his ability to get off the mound and cover first quickly. The speedy Gardner, who started the eighth inning rally in Game 1 by beating C.J. Wilson to the bag, tried to do the same with two outs in the third. But Lee outran him to first, taking the throw from Mitch Moreland and stepping on the bag as Gardner slid in headfirst (and appeared to miss first).
* Early runs have really helped the Rangers in the ALCS. They've scored in the first inning of every game in this series and in four straight postseason games going back to Game 5 of the ALDS. Texas has scored the game's first run in seven of the last eight games, including all three of Lee's starts (thanks, ESPN Stats & Information). It helps calm the nerves of everyone when you can hand the pitcher a lead quickly. Lee said the early runs allowed him to get even more aggressive with hitters.
* Michael Young's long at-bats set an example for the Rangers' patient approach against Andy Pettitte. It started in the first. With one out, Young had a nine-pitch at-bat after falling behind 0-2. He worked the count full, fouling off pitches around the zone and staying away from those that weren't close and then got a fastball he wanted and hit a line-drive single to center. That put a runner on with one out for Josh Hamilton, who ended up hitting a homer (more on that shortly). Young then came up with two out in the third and had an eight-pitch at-bat that turned into an infield hit. In that inning, three of the Rangers' four batters had 3-2 counts, forcing Pettitte to throw a bunch of pitches. Young had hits in his first three at-bats of the game.
* Hamilton sure does love New York. The slugger, who became a national story at the Home Run Derby at (old) Yankee Stadium in 2008, got the count in his favor by taking the first two pitches for balls. He was rewarded for his patience with an 85 mph cutter that he was able to turn on, and he hit it to right field for a two-run homer. It was the second time this series that Hamilton has hit a first-inning home run with runners on (had a three-run blast in Game 1). The left-handed hitter should find that right-field porch awfully appealing this series.
* Teixeira took a walk in the fourth to become the first baserunner of the night for the Yankees. Lee has put the walk on the endangered species list this season and Teixeira's base on balls was the first Lee has issued in the 2010 postseason. He went 19 2/3 innings without allowing a walk in the postseason before Monday night.
* Lost in Lee-mania was the fact that Pettitte was very good. He gave up two runs on five hits with no walks in seven innings. He gave up two runs in the first inning, the first time he's given up a run in the first inning in nine postseason starts. Pettitte allowed just three hits after the first inning.
* Two-strike hits helped the Rangers tack on insurance runs in the ninth. Hamilton hit a two-strike double and Vladimir Guerrero, who was struggling in this postseason, got a tw0-strike single to put runners on the corners. Then Nelson Cruz came up with the big hit. Cruz has been the club's best clutch hitter this season and he gave the team some breathing room.
* The Yankees walked pinch-hitter David Murphy in the ninth to get to Bengie Molina, who hit a single to score the fourth run of the game.
* Washington decided to go with Moreland at first base over Jorge Cantu, and that call paid dividends in the ninth as Moreland hit a two-run single.
* Andrus was able to keep his playoff hitting streak alive thanks to the wild ninth as he had a single to drive in another run. The Rangers ended up with six in the inning.
* Before the inning started, it was 2-0 and Washington was faced with deciding whether to send Lee out for the ninth (I know I would have and I think Washington would have too). But the runs made that decision moot.
"I was going out there and the inning lasted quite a while and they decied to put Nefi in right there and he did the job 1-2-3," Lee said on TV right after the game.
* The big ninth gave Washington the perfect opportunity to use closer Neftali Feliz, who needed a confidence-builder after two shaky performances this postseason. Feliz got all three batters he faced -- Jeter, Swisher and Teixeira -- to end the game. Feliz hit 100 mph on the Yankee Stadium radar gun.