Let's take another moment to appreciate our old friend Cliff Lee once again.
Ever since the Rangers beat the Rays and advanced to the ALCS to take on the Yankees, the questions started bombarding the New York hitters: What do you think about facing Cliff Lee? How will you fare against Cliff Lee? What can you do differently this time around to beat Cliff Lee?
If you don't recall, Clifton Phifer Lee was the one pitcher for the Phillies in last year's World Series that the Yankees couldn't figure out. There was his effortless dominance in game 1, and gutty performance in game 5.
In that first game, Lee went the distance, striking 10 Yankees while walking none in a 1-run, six-hit showing as the Phils cruised to a 6-1 win and 1-0 series lead. Facing elimination in game 5, Lee had his struggles early on and wound up surrendering five runs in seven innings, but he buckled down when things got tight and pulled out the victory.
So what would he have in store for New York this year, with the series tied 1-1 and the Rangers shifting location to the Bronx?
Well, John Kruk, Bobby Valentine and Mike Golic all predicted a Yankees win, all of them proclaiming that the New York lineup would finally get to Lee and score something like 6, 7 or even 8 runs. Clearly, these guys haven't been paying attention.
The Yankees didn't get to Cliff Lee even a little bit. The greatest man who ever lived threw 8 innings of two-hit, shutout ball with 13 strikeouts and just one walk in an 8-0 Texas win. And had it not been for a six-run 9th for the Rangers, you probably would have seen Lee trot out there to complete this one himself, even with a high pitch count. Because he was as dominant as ever, baffling the Yankees even more so than he did in 2009.
This potent New York lineup looked impotent and helpless. When they were expecting a fastball, they got a changeup or curve. When they looked off-speed, Lee threw his four-seamer or cutter. And in came the slider to keep them even more off-balance. He worked both sides of the plate, changed the eye level and was one step ahead of every batter. The Yankees didn't look like a collection of all-stars. They looked like an overmatched little leaguer facing the biggest, fastest, strongest kid who already had facial hair and muscles. Which is to say, Cliff Lee truly looked like a man amongst boys, and he wasn't even thinking about going easy on them.
The win improved Lee's career postseason record to 7-0 in eight starts with a 1.26 ERA and 67 strikeouts to just 7 walks in 64 and a third innings. He's given up just 40 hits in those 64-plus innings, just one home run and 9 earned runs. He has been the single greatest postseason starting pitcher I've ever laid eyes on. That's not hyperbole or exaggeration. It's simply fact.
If Buster Olney is to be believed in his post-game interview with Lee, Cliff is the first pitcher in the history of baseball to have double-digit strikeouts in three straight postseason games with last night's 13-strikeout performance following his 10 strikeouts in game 1 of the ALDS and 11 K's in the deciding game 5 to win the series.
Now he has the Rangers in a position hardly anyone thought they'd be in, up 2 games to 1 on the Yankees, with another Cliff Lee start on the horizon.
Right now, there isn't a more frightening proposition than having to step in the batters box to face one Clifton Phifer Lee in October.
Then again, we Philadelphians already knew that. And so did New Yorkers. Now Texas knows, and everyone else who is paying attention.