ALCS, Game Three: Texas 8, New York 0: Roadkill.

8-0 is not the most common of baseball scores, particularly in games pitting two very good teams against each other, and so as I walked back to the subway station last night (er, this morning), addled by a deepening level of sleep deprivation that would, an hour later, somehow convince me to say something about a "wedding" in a slightly unhinged postgame Newberg Report, my thoughts wandered to the former trendy place-to-be-seen in the Quadrangle called 8.0.

On 8.0's menu was a kitchen sink explosion called "roadkill" (which I tested once myself, with what I remember to be not the greatest result).

That's what 8-0, Texas over NewYork, was last night. Baseball homicide, coldly perpetrated on enemy grounds.

Roadkill.

There's been a batch of sudden omens that I've latched onto this post-season, so I was feeling pretty good yesterday when I ran into these:

  • An infant waiting at the airport gate repeating, over and over and over, the phrase "eeeh-TAH!!," which, half asleep, I heard as the child's attempt to exclaim, "It's Time"
  • My cabbie from La Guardia wearing a Yankees cap but, when I tried to engage him in a little trash talk, admitting he didn't know the Yankees even had a game last night -- or who they were supposed to play next
  • The odd placement of a 20-year-old Toad the Wet Sprocket song that caught my ear in the Tampa airport two weeks ago . . . and another 20-year-old Toad the Wet Sprocket song heard yesterday afternoon when I arrived at the New York hotel

But when I settled into my seat, 10 minutes before game time, it hit me: Looking for omens is a waste of time on Cliff Lee Night in America. All you had to do is read Yankee quotes after Game Two and before Game Three to be very clear on where this was headed. It bordered on self-fulfilling prophecy.

The English language has its limits, or at least my grasp of it is a big bag of fail, as I'm out of words to try and describe what Lee is, or what he did last night. In a sport in which artistry wins games, not just Web Gems, what Lee did to the Yankees was the work of a transcendent artist. I can't ever remember a local athlete this consistently, and predictably, dominant.

Bullet points:

  • Lee's 13 strikeouts last night matched a career high. He also recorded the highest swing-and-miss percentage of his season, getting Yankees hitters to whiff 29.8 percent of the time they swung.
  • Those 13 strikeouts included six on fastballs, three on cutters (very cool that the Yankee Stadium scoreboard identifies pitches that specifically), three on curves, and one on a changeup.
  • The Yankees swung nine times at Lee's change. Only once did they put the ball in play, an Alex Rodriguez groundout to shortstop.
  • According to ESPN, the Yankees were 0 for 27 this year against Lee's cutter before Posada's sand wedge over Ian Kinsler's head to break up Lee's no-hitter in the fifth inning.
  • Lee had at least one strikeout in every inning last night.
  • Twenty-four outs. Thirteen on strikes. Think about that.
  • New York was 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position -- all coming in the sixth inning. Since the nightmare top of the eighth in Game One, Texas pitchers have held the Yankees to a 1-for-20 clip with RISP.
  • The 30 strikeouts Lee piled up between post-season walks (dating back to 2009) is an all-time big league record.
  • Lee's 1.26 career post-season ERA trails only Sandy Koufax and Christy Mathewson.
  • New York has eight playoff wins and two playoff losses in New Yankee Stadium. Lee is responsible for both losses.
  • Texas is the first team ever to record multiple shutouts on two hits or fewer in a single post-season.
  • Lee is the first big league pitcher ever to strike out at least 10 batters three times in one post-season.

And, unless New York wins three straight, he's not done pitching. (And I'd suggest he may be back on the mound in Game Six if the Yankees win the next two, making Game Six an elimination game for Texas to stave off . . . and make sure there is a Game Seven to play.)

Stated another way, if Texas can win one of the next three, Cliff Lee is guaranteed a Game Seven start in Arlington -- or a Game One start in Philadelphia or San Francisco.

(And by the way, this is as good a place as any: Don't think of this series as over yet. The Yankees are very, very good.)

Much was made of New York's successful ALDS gameplan against Twins righthander Carl Pavano, a strike-thrower on whom the Yankees pounced on early in the count to take count leverage away from him.

Asked about the team's planned approach against Lee, Mark Teixeira said: "We just can't be taking up there and waiting for our pitch, because it might not come. We might have to be more aggressive."

And then what happened? They go and let Lee get ahead last night. The first time through the Yankees lineup, Marcus Thames was the only hitter to swing at the first pitch. Was that smart? The apparent strategy to submit to Lee's will but try and get him out of the game earlier than usual seemed like an act of desperation, and possibly a foolish one, particularly coming from a team with that sort of ability to create offense. But, again, read the Yankee quotes leading up to Game Three, and you can't help but see the desperation, in what was then a tied series with New York having seized home field.

They don't tabulate GWRBI any more, but if they did, last night's game-winner would have been awarded to Josh Hamilton's shot five minutes into the game, as near in time to Kristen Chenowith's anthem as to the first of Lee's windmill warmups behind the mound. Texas has scored in the first inning in each of this series' three games, twice on the strength of a Hamilton blast off an elite lefthander. Add in what was nearly a second home run and the missile he shot to left center past the rangy Brett Gardner to kick off the explosive ninth (also off a lefty, that time specialist Boone Logan), and it's safe to say that Hamilton is once again locked in -- or at least needs to be pitched to as if he were.

Michael Young's impressive night -- not only the three singles (two the other way) but also the 28 pitches he saw (including 17 in his first two-bats against Andy Pettitte) -- bodes well, too. He's prone to staying hot for a couple weeks when he starts to consistently square up the opposite way, and this would be a real good two weeks during which to be locked in.

Elvis Andrus saw 27 pitches himself, and continues to have a breakthrough post-season, considering what was arguably a bit of a regression offensively in 2010.

Despite Pettitte's high pitch count (he needed 43 pitches to get through the Texas lineup one time), he was really good, of course. After Hamilton's homer in the first, the lefthander retired 19 of the next 21 (Young's second and third singles were the two at-bats that weren't outs), and no Ranger reached second base in that span.

But the battles that Andrus and Young and others engaged in with Pettitte ended his night after seven, allowing Texas to get into the New York bullpen and turn a masterpiece duel into a pasting.

It's been written everywhere you look, but aside from that disastrous eighth on Friday night, this has been a series in which the Rangers have really had their way with New York, a team that disposed of the Twins in short order while Texas warred with Tampa Bay. Again, it's not over, but it's been a very impressive three games, almost flawless as playoff work goes.

Texas has now played eight playoff games. In seven of them, the road team has won. That's bizarre.

The Rangers were winless in Tampa and New York during the regular season. They're now 4-0 in those two ballparks in the playoffs.

James Shields notwithstanding, the Rangers have beaten some of the best starting pitchers that the American League has to offer in the playoffs. David Price twice. Phil Hughes. Pettitte. And they punished C.C. Sabathia as well, even though they couldn't nail down a win that night.

This series is the 20th ALCS to start out at one win apiece. Of the previous 19, 14 have ultimately been won by the team that took Game Three. None of the five exceptions had Lee -- though the last team that won Game Three to go up two games to one and still lost the ALCS (and in fact the only such team to do so since 1998) was the 2007 Indians, which had left Lee off the roster.

I went to Carnegie Deli for a pregame bite. There. I've done that now. No need for a return trip. (O-ver-RA-ted, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.)

The energy in Section 226 (which may have shown up late on the TBS broadcast, no?) was fantastic. I don't know whether the "Let's go Rangers" chant was audible on the air, but it was strong. (And not particularly appreciated by the Yankees fans who hadn't fled for the exits by that point.) (The same Yankees fans who treated the pregame Rangers introductions not with boos, but with indifference, treating that time as the final few minutes of cocktail hour.)

Seeing what the Yankees do with their in-game presentation has me very excited about the potential we have once a new video board is put in place in Arlington. There's only one Chuck Morgan.

I know I've written about this three or four times now, but I still can't believe Cliff Lee is a Ranger -- not so much in a "dream come true" sense, but instead a shock at what the Yankees didn't do.

Why were the Yankees willing to trade blue-chip prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle three months ago, when they knew they would be the frontrunner to sign Lee this winter anyway? Because of last night, and this month. It wasn't to prevent Lee from getting cozy with some other new team; it was to make New York stronger this season. There's no other way to explain a willingness to part with Montero for those extra three months of work.

Which is why I just don't understand the decision not to add infielder Eduardo Nunez or righthander Ivan Nova to the deal to prevent the Mariners from reversing course and shipping Lee elsewhere.

Love it, just don't understand it.

Think there might be some Yankee players who don't understand it either?

Nunez and Nova have a lot to live up to now.

But for the moment, there's a greater burden on Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, and Jorge Posada, who are a collective 6 for 53 (.113) with 18 strikeouts and zero RBI in this series. Cliff Lee had a lot to do with that, but so did C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis and a relief crew that, other than in one brutal inning, has done its job.

As I send this report, I'm not even back home from easily the greatest sports trip of my life, and possibly the best sports moment, and when I do land back on my couch I'm sure I'll still be delirious, not in the crazed sense but more just an out-of-sorts state, needing sleep but not expecting much for a while, yet oddly comforted by the rock-steady confidence that this inexperienced playoff team is showing, faring pretty damn well against the playoff-seasoned, pinstriped force that seems to have traded in its swagger as it talked itself into playing the underdog role.

 

cliff lee nyy 2010

 

 
title_authors

Jamey Newberg

Dallas attorney Jamey Newberg has been commenting on Rangers from the big club down through the entire farm system since 1998.

Scott Lucas

Scott Lucas was born in Arlington, Texas, to Richard and Becky Lucas. He lived mostly in Arlington before moving to Austin, where he graduated from The University of Texas. Scott works for Austin Valuation Consultants, Ltd., and has published several boring articles about real estate appraisal and environmental contamination. He makes a swell margarita and refuses to run longer than ten kilometres.

Eleanor Czajka

Eleanor grew up watching the AAA Mudhens in Toledo, Ohio. A loyal Ranger fan since 1979, she works "behind the scenes" at the Newberg Report.

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