Saturday’s Game 1 NLCS matchup between Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay was billed as one of the best postseason pitching matchups ever. It didn’t turn out that way, of course. That’s just not how this game works. And so, Cliff Lee could have given up four runs over six innings tonight and most rational baseball fans wouldn’t have been surprised. That’s why there’s something to be said for someone who comes out and does exactly what he was hyped to do: Completely dominate.
Lee held the Yankees to two measly hits over eight shutout innings tonight, striking out 13 and walking just one, leading the Rangers to an 8-0 win and a 2-1 lead in the ALCS. The southpaw is now 7-0 with a ridiculous 1.31 ERA and 67/7 K/BB ratio over 64 1/3 innings in eight career postseason starts. He and Bob Gibson are now the only pitchers in major league baseball history to strike out 10 or more batters in three straight postseason starts. Lee is the first to do it in a single postseason.
There was a question of whether Lee would come back out after throwing 122 pitches through eight innings, but the Rangers saved Ron Washington a difficult decision by scoring six runs in the top of the ninth. Considering that Washington ended up using Neftali Feliz with an eight-run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, we probably shouldn’t trust his judgment, anyway.
Andy Pettitte was overshadowed by the brilliance of Lee, but his lone blemish was the two-run homer by Josh Hamilton in the top of the first inning. Otherwise, he was excellent, allowing five hits over seven innings while striking out five and walking none. It was fair to wonder how the veteran left-hander would bounce back after missing most of the second half of the regular season with a left groin injury, but his first two starts during the postseason have effectively put those concerns in the rear view.
As fans poured out of Yankee Stadium in the top of the ninth inning, the immediate assumption was that there was no way A.J. Burnett would pitch Game 4 on Tuesday night. Wrong. Joe Girardi announced after the game that he would stick with Burnett instead using of CC Sabathia on short rest, even though the Yankees are down 2-1 in the series. It sounds crazy on the surface, but maybe not so much when Tommy Hunter is starting on the other side. Looking past a deceptive 3.73 ERA during the regular season, Hunter averaged just 4.78 K/9 and served up 21 homers in 128 innings. If the Yankees can hit him like they are capable of doing, they could probably absorb a mediocre start from Burnett. That’s clearly the plan.
The Rangers now have the series advantage and they may very well hold the mental advantage, too. Lee obviously looms pretty large in a potential Game 7 in Arlington. It would be silly to look that far ahead, though. If the Yankees can’t take advantage of favorable matchups in the next couple of days, they may not see Lee again until he goes out in search of a well-deserved king’s ransom this winter.