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How important was Cliff Lee's eight-inning gem in New York on Monday night? Not only did he help the Rangers seal a win that pulled them ahead in the series; according to Lone Star Ball, his game, and the fact that he's looming in any potential ALCS Game 7, puts pressure on the Yankees to try to win three in a row.
And now, with a 2-1 lead, we see the advantage of Cliff Lee being slated to start Games 3 and 7 instead of Games 1 and 5. Lee, as we've discussed before, is in the Yankees' heads. The Yankees don't think they can beat Lee.
And with Lee looming in Game 7, that makes each of the next three games tantamount to an elimination game. The Yankees have to win the next three games in a row to avoid having to beat Lee to get to the World Series. Which means the Yankees feel they have to win each of the next three games to advance from the ALCS.
I think that's not insignificant.
Click through for the rest of the post.
Cliff Lee was nearly flawless over eight shutout innings, and the Ranger lineup scored early and erupted late as visiting Texas took a 2-1 series over the Yankees with an 8-0 blowout victory.
Though the final score sends one message, this was, for eight innings, a very close game. The Rangers were able to get out on top against Andy Pettitte and the Yankees in the top of the first, when Josh Hamilton came up with a man on and a man out and pulled a pitch into the shallow right field bleachers. The home run - Hamilton's second of the series, and second off a lefty - put the visitors on top 2-0 before many viewers had a chance to tune in.
But those two runs would be the only runs we'd see for hours, as from that point forward, Pettitte settled down while Lee pitched another gem. For the next seven and a half innings, each team remained scoreless. As a matter of fact, over the next seven and a half innings, only six men would reach base.
Three of them reached against Pettitte - Michael Young, on a single in the third, Michael Young, on a single in the sixth, and Jeff Francoeur, on a single in the seventh. Pettitte worked around each base hit and sustained no additional damage.
And three of them reached against Lee - Mark Teixeira, on a walk in the fourth, Jorge Posada, on a single in the fifth, and Brett Gardner, on a single in the sixth. Like Pettitte, Lee worked around each situation and managed to keep the Yankees scoreless. Only Gardner was so much as able to get himself into scoring position, but he was stranded there when Derek Jeter struck out and both Nick Swisher and Teixeira grounded out.
After eight, with the score still 2-0 Rangers, the Yankee bullpen was in the game, but Lee's pitch count was up to 122. That mark represented a season high for Lee, and there were questions about how much he had left in the tank, and whether Ron Washington would go to his bullpen. At that point, the Yankees had a glimmer of hope.
But all hope was lost when, in the top of the ninth, the Rangers sent ten batters to the plate against Boone Logan, David Robertson, and Sergio Mitre. Hamilton got things started with a leadoff double, and the runs started to pour in as quickly as the fans started to pour out. Nelson Cruz, Bengie Molina, Mitch Moreland, and Elvis Andrus all came away with RBI hits, and another run scored on a wild pitch as the Rangers pushed six across, turning a two-run margin into an eight-run cushion.
At that point, Washington elected to give Lee the rest of the night off so he could give some work to Neftali Feliz. And Feliz picked up three outs with little incident to seal the deal. Despite Pettitte turning in New York's best start of the series, Game 3 went to Cliff Lee and Texas, who have now at the very least guaranteed themselves a return trip home.
Lee has now worked 24 innings over three starts in the 2010 playoffs, allowing two runs while walking one and striking out 34. By striking out 13 Yankees Monday night, Lee reached double digits for the third consecutive playoff start, tying Bob Gibson for the all-time record.
Game 4 will be played Tuesday night, and is currently scheduled to feature Tommy Hunter and A.J. Burnett. Burnett's start has been in question, as he's been ineffective down the stretch while CC Sabathia is available on short rest, but Joe Girardi appears committed to starting Burnett regardless.
After the six run top of the ninth, the bottom half was just a formality, but Neftali Feliz did the job anyway, striking out Derek Jeter, getting Nick Swisher to groundout, and striking out Mark Teixeira.
The Rangers took a close-game-cum-blowout, and in so doing have taken the 2-1 lead in the series and guaranteed themselves at least a trip back home.
For eight innings, this game was close. This game is no longer close.
Against Boone Logan, David Robertson, and Sergio Mitre, the Rangers sent ten men to the plate and drove six of them home, turning a 2-0 pitcher's duel into an 8-0 laughter that sent most of the fans on their ways home.
The big hits? It's difficult to identify any big hits. But there were a lot of hits. Josh Hamilton doubled. Vladimir Guerrero singled. Nelson Cruz singled. David Murphy walked. Bengie Molina singled. Mitch Moreland singled. Elvis Andrus doubled.
The Rangers now have Game 3 all wrapped up, and due to the long inning and the pitch count, Cliff Lee has stayed on the bench, and Neftali Feliz has come in to get some work out of the bullpen. Lee's winning performance:
122 pitches (82 strikes)
Just a sensational effort by Lee and the Rangers, who are right where they want to be.
The Yankees will probably get a chance to hit against the Ranger bullpen. That chance just didn't come in the eighth.
After Kerry Wood threw a scoreless top half, Cliff Lee returned to the mound despite an elevated pitch count and threw like a guy who didn't have an elevated pitch count. Jorge Posada led off with a strikeout. Curtis Granderson followed with a weak groundout. And then Brett Gardner wrapped it up with a strikeout. Lee - at a season-high 122 pitches - is probably done, but if that was his final inning, he went out with a bang.
Over eight shutout innings - so far? - Lee has 13 strikeouts and one walk.
Boone Logan is on for the Yankees in the ninth.
With a high pitch count, Cliff Lee's approaching the end of his evening, but if the seventh is any indication, he doesn't want to come out. Alex Rodriguez led off with a groundout to second. Robinson Cano followed with a weaker groundout to first. And Marcus Thames finished things off with a swinging strikeout - Lee's 11th strikeout of the game, against just one walk.
Lee's thrown 106 pitches, with a season high of 120. That came in his ALDS Game 5 start against the Rays.
110 pitches (67 strikes)
Andy Pettitte has just done a phenomenal job of keeping his team in the game. It would be easy to look at Cliff Lee and shake in your boots, but Pettitte's been up to the task, and he just wrapped up a scoreless seventh inning that will probably stand as his last frame of the night.
Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler each flew out, and after Jeff Francoeur reached on an infield single, Alex Rodriguez snared a grounder down the line by Bengie Molina and threw low to first, where Mark Teixeira made a terrific pick for the out.
Pettitte has thrown 110 pitches, and we go to the bottom of the seventh still 2-0.
It very nearly didn't work out that way. In the top of the sixth, Pettitte allowed a base hit to Michael Young, and then Josh Hamilton lifted another fly ball deep to right field. This one, though, was snagged by Nick Swisher in front of the wall, and Pettitte was able to retire Vladimir Guerrero to end the inning.
Lee returned to the mound and allowed a leadoff groundball single up the middle to Brett Gardner. Gardner stole second and got himself in scoring position with nobody out, but Derek Jeter whiffed, and Swisher and Mark Teixeira subsequently grounded out to strand the runner. Our score, therefore, remains 2-0 Texas going into the seventh.
Pettitte has thrown 100 pitches, while Lee has thrown 97. Lee has also struck out ten batters, reaching triple digits for the third playoff start in a row. That ties a record set by Bob Gibson.
Andy Pettitte keeps doing his job. The Rangers haven't been able to do any damage since Josh Hamilton's home run, and Pettitte finished off a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the fifth. His pitch count stands at a reasonable 85, and the Yankees have to be thrilled with his start, after seeing the starts they got from CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes.
The Yankees also have to be thrilled that Jorge Posada came up with their first hit of the game in the bottom half. It was an inside pitch that Posada fisted the other way just beyond the second baseman, but it was a hit. Unfortunately for New York, that was all they could manage. Marcus Thames and Curtis Granderson both struck out in the frame, and Cliff Lee's shutout remains intact after five.
Lee's up to 80 pitches. The Yankees will, at least, get to see the Texas bullpen.
Andy Pettitte spun a very effective top of the fourth in which he struck out two batters and induced a weak grounder. However, the Yankees are already behind and need to start scoring some runs, and the bottom of the fourth went by just as the three previous innings did.
Derek Jeter struck out. Nick Swisher battled off a ton of pitches with foul balls, but he, too, wound up striking out. Mark Teixeira was then able to draw a walk on a full count, but the inning ended when Alex Rodriguez flied out to left.
Teixeira is the first Yankee to reach base, but they're still hitless. In good news, the long inning has Lee's pitch count up to 65. Pettitte's at 74.
The third inning went quietly in New York, just as the second inning did. Andy Pettitte did allow an infield single to Michael Young when Derek Jeter couldn't come up with a strong throw from the hole, but Young was stranded when Josh Hamilton grounded out on a broken-bat roller.
Then Cliff Lee went and had a 13-pitch 1-2-3 inning, shaving two pitches off his total from the first and second. Jorge Posada struck out looking. Curtis Granderson struck out swinging. And Brett Gardner grounded out on a roller to first when first base umpire Angel Hernandez ruled that Lee - who was covering - beat a diving Gardner to the bag.
Replays showed that Gardner arrived first, but moved his hand out of the way of Lee's cleat and didn't touch the base. It's nine up and nine down for the Yankees, and it's 2-0 going into the fourth.
We figured coming in that we'd have a bit of a pitcher's duel, which made the Josh Hamilton homer in the first surprising. The second inning saw a return to normalcy. Andy Pettitte worked a quick 1-2-3 in the top half, needing 12 pitches to pick up a lineout, a groundout, and a strikeout.
That brought Cliff Lee back to the mound, and Lee just continued what he's been doing all postseason and, truthfully, all year long. Alex Rodriguez went away on a strikeout. Robinson Cano went away on a soft lineout. And Marcus Thames finished things off by swinging through an outside cutter.
About the only complaint Lee can have is that it's taken 30 pitches for him to retire six batters. Otherwise, it's all been peaches, and the score is 2-0 Texas going into the third.
Another day, another strong start for the Rangers. Josh Hamilton put Texas in the lead in the top of the first when he ripped a two-run homer off Andy Pettitte. That brought Cliff Lee out to the mound, and Cliff Lee did what Cliff Lee does.
Early pitch counts are 15 for Lee, and 25 for Pettitte.
Michael Young went the other way with a base hit to the gap off Andy Pettitte, putting a man on first. Up next was Josh Hamilton, and on a 2-1 count, Hamilton went out and yanked a cutter just over the right field wall for a two-run homer. It wasn't the most impressive of home runs, but you don't need to hit impressive home runs in Yankee Stadium, and now the home team's in quite a bit of a hole.
Worth noting that both of Hamilton's home runs have come against tough lefties, in Pettitte and CC Sabathia.
Derek Jeter, SS
Nick Swisher, RF
Mark Teixeira, 1B
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B
Marcus Thames, DH
Jorge Posada, C
Curtis Granderson, CF
Brett Gardner, LF
Andy Pettitte, SP
Elvis Andrus, SS
Michael Young, 3B
Josh Hamilton, CF
Vladimir Guerrero, DH
Nelson Cruz, LF
Ian Kinsler, 2B
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Bengie Molina, C
Mitch Moreland, 1B
Cliff Lee, SP
(Sports Network) - Cliff Lee hopes to add to his already impressive postseason resume this evening when the Texas Rangers play Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
With his two wins against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS Lee is now 6-0 in his first seven postseason starts, with his teams winning all seven of those contests.
"Regardless of what other people expect of me, I expect as much out of myself or more than anybody is going to expect out of me," Lee said. "So I don't look at it any different than I would any other game. I expect to be successful and that's the game plan [Monday] and every time I take the mound."
Lee was terrific in pitching the Rangers into the ALCS with a dominating performance against the Rays in Game 5 of the ALDS, as he gave up a run and six hits and struck out 11 in the complete-game effort.
His 1.44 ERA in the postseason is the fifth-lowest in major league history for a pitcher with at least five starts. Three of the four pitchers ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame.
The Yankees know full well how good Lee, who is a free agent at season's end, has been in the playoffs, as he beat them twice in last year's World Series, including a complete-game effort in Game 1 of the Fall Classic for Philadelphia.
"I don't think there's an exact science how you approach Cliff Lee," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "But to me, he's a lot like Roy Halladay. If you try to take a couple of pitches and get deep in the count, you might be 0-2. So for me with Cliff Lee, I think you have to be ready to hit from pitch one. And if he makes a mistake, don't miss it."
In 12 regular season starts against the Yankees Lee is 6-4 with a 4.42 ERA. He held the Yanks to just a run and two hits in eight innings the last time he faced them back on September 12.
"They're basically an All-Star team," Lee said. "From top to bottom, they have threats everywhere. I know it's a team that if you miss out over the plate and find yourself in 2-0, 1-2 [counts], bad things are going to happen. I have to stay away from 2-0, 3-1, not walk guys and stay out of the heart of the plate and mix speeds. That's what I'm going to try to do, locate and keep the ball down and away, down and in, up and in, out of the strike zone here and there to keep them honest, and just try to keep them off balance."
New York, though, will hand the ball to a left-hander with pretty solid postseason credentials as well in Andy Pettitte, who has won more games in the playoffs than any pitcher in baseball history.
"There's been talk about Cliff Lee before he even started this series and people were talking about Game 3," Girardi said. "But let's not forget that we have a pretty good guy on the mound, too, that's won a lot of postseason games and has won a lot of clinchers in his career. I can go back to catching him in 1998 when he won the [World Series] clincher against San Diego, and he's been doing it a long time.
"The guy that's getting lost in this is Andy Pettitte, and he's pretty good."
Pettitte picked up his 19th career playoff win with a victory over the Minnesota Twins in Game 2 of the ALDS. Pettitte gave up two runs and five hits in seven innings of that one.
At 19-9 with a 3.87 ERA in the postseason, he holds major league records for wins, starts (41) and innings (256) in the postseason. He hasn't lost a postseason game since the 2005 National League Championship Series as a member of the Houston Astros.
"In my opinion he's probably the best postseason pitcher of all time just by the number of wins and the number of rings he's got," Lee said of Pettitte.
Pettitte is 11-9 lifetime against the Rangers.
Texas won its first home postseason game in franchise history and evened this series at a game apiece on Saturday, as David Murphy homered and drove in two runs while the Rangers bullpen held steady in a 7-2 win.
One night after blowing a five-run lead to the Yankees, Texas snapped a 10- game playoff losing streak against New York.
On Saturday, the Rangers again built up a big lead, going ahead 7-1 after five innings against Yankees starter Phil Hughes. But their bullpen didn't implode this time, following Colby Lewis (1-0) with 3 1/3 scoreless innings to seal the win.
"I think we just knew what we needed to do," Lewis said. "We had two games here at home and we needed -- after last night, we just needed to come out today and split it and go back to their place, plain and simple."
Lewis limited the Yankees to two runs on six hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings, with six strikeouts. He was supported by a Texas offense that got to Hughes (1-1) for seven runs and 10 hits in only four-plus innings.
"Our starters have not pitched well so far," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "Our starters pitched extremely well and everyone was giddy about them the last series. I don't ever get too involved in snapshot pictures because those can be dangerous. I believe in our guys and I believe that they will pitch well as we continue forward here."
Robinson Cano has been on fire in this series for the Yankees, going 5-for-9 with a pair of home runs and three RBI. He is hitting .429 for the entire postseason.
The Yankees and Rangers split eight games during the regular season.
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