So what happened to Cliff Lee?

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I know the NFL likes to play up that “any given Sunday” crap, but baseball is really the sport where anything can happen.

To wit: Cliff Lee getting torched by a team that wasn’t supposed to have any offense. A team that was supposed to be so dominated by Lee that people actually suggested saving Lincecum to pitch another day rather than waste him on a lost cause. Yeah, well, people who say stuff like that don’t really understand baseball all that much.  Even Cy Young winners and latter-day Sandy Koufaxes get lit up a few times over the course of 30 or 40 starts in a season. It’s just how the game rolls.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying to figure out what went wrong.  And it did go wrong. Lee gave up seven runs — not all earned, of course — in  f our and two-thirds. If you look at the box score you wonder how that could be, what with him striking out seven and walking only one.  I didn’t catch any of Lee’s postgame quotes, but the answer, I’m thinking, had to do with his curveball. The thing looked like an eephus pitch at times, arcing over the lefthanded batter’s box and never presenting much of a threat.  It seemed to me that batters were waiting for the heater, and when it came, they deposited it someplace useful. Which just goes to show you how fine a line it is between dominance and humbling mortality in this game, even for the best.

But let’s not overreact. I’m sure that many of the same people who assumed that Lee was a stone cold lock for Game 1 will now be saying how terrible this is for the Rangers in this series and maybe even for Lee on the free agent market.  Ignore that stuff too.  The Rangers only needed one win from Cliff Lee in the ALCS and survived a disastrous Game 1 there as well. As long as they don’t get a second disastrous game — C.J. Wilson, it’s time to pick up your teammate — they’ll be fine.

And this winter, when Cliff Lee signs a nine-figure deal, this will be all but forgotten.

Aaron Judge set a new postseason strikeout record

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For a few days, it looked like Aaron Judge was finally hitting his stride in the postseason. He was still striking out at a regular clip, piling more and more strikeouts atop the 16 he racked up in the Division Series, but he was mashing, too. He engineered a three-run homer during Game 3 of the Championship Series, followed by another blast and game-tying double in Game 4. His one-out double helped pad a five-run lead in Game 5, while his 425-footer off of Brad Peacock barely made a dent during a 7-1 loss in Game 6. And then Lance McCullers‘ curveball found and fooled him, as it did five of the 14 batters it met in Game 7:

The strikeout was Judge’s first of the evening and 27th since the start of the playoffs. No other major league batter has racked up that many strikeouts in a single postseason, though Alfonso Soriano’s 26-strikeout record in 2003 comes the closest. Within that record, Judge also collected three golden sombreros (four strikeouts in a single game), narrowly avoiding the dreaded platinum sombrero (five strikeouts in a single game).

It’s an unfortunate footnote to a spectacular year for the rookie outfielder, who decimated the competition with 52 home runs and 8.2 fWAR during the regular season and was a pivotal part of the Yankees’ playoff run. Thankfully, the image of McCullers’ curveball darting just under Judge’s bat won’t be the image that sticks with us for years to come. Instead, it’ll look something like this: