Their rotation wasn’t supposed to matter because the Yankees could score runs — in bunches.
The challenge of scoring runs or even one run, though, took on a whole other meaning last night against Cliff Lee, who struck out 13 in eight dominating innings. Lee’s 122 pitches lived on the corners and sailed for strikes as the Rangers rolled to an 8-0 victory at Yankee Stadium in Game 3 to take a 2-1 lead in the AL Championship Series.
“He was living really well on the corners,” Mark Teixeira said. “When you’re aggressive on backdoor cutters, backdoor sliders and cutters on your hands, you’re going to get yourself out. We just tried to do our best. He beat us tonight.”
Trying to do their best against Lee, who is now 7-0 in the postseason and has won the last time six times he has taken the mound in postseason, proved to be a feeble matter. The Yankees had two line-drive singles, saw one runner get to third and were handed their worst shutout loss in 360 playoff games. They were also held to two hits or fewer in a postseason game for just the third time.
“I thought Lee was excellent tonight,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He knows how to change speeds. He knows how to pitch in and out. He knows how to read swing and he adapts very quickly.”
Lee retired the first 11 and didn’t allow a hit until Jorge Posada lined a single to right. After allowing a leadoff single to Brett Gardner in the sixth, Lee retired the final nine, ending his night with a three pitch strikeout of Gardner in the eighth.
“He was just his normal self,” Gardner said. “He was on his game tonight. He hit his spots and me hitting in the ninth hole, I usually get a lot of fastballs but tonight I really didn’t get many at all.”
“He looked great from a pitching standpoint,” Curtis Granderson said. “He’s definitely difficult to go ahead and do much damage with. He located the ball to both sides of the plate very well, changed speeds, elevated when he needed to and he did a great job of keeping his composure throughout the course of the game when he did get in trouble.”
When the Yankees faced Lee in Game 1 and Game 5 of the 2009 World Series, they had 13 hits in 16 innings. One October later, the most contact they made was hitting nearly 30 foul balls but each time they seemed close to getting something, nothing happened.
In the fourth, Teixeira broke up his perfect game with a walk. One pitch later, any rally ended when Alex Rodriguez lined a first-pitch cutter to left field.
Two innings later, Gardner singled on a 1-1 cutter, stole second and moved to third on a groundout. He was left there when Teixeira grounded a 1-1 curveball to shortstop Elvis Andrus.
“You hope so, but it didn’t happen,” Derek Jeter said. “You hope you could get something going but that wasn’t the case.”
Just as the pregame hype, Lee overshadowed a good, not great Andy Pettitte.
Pettitte was one cutter away from matching zeros with Lee. He gave up a two-run home run to Josh Hamilton with one out in the first and then finished his seven innings by retiring 20 of the 23 final hitters.
“He was great,” Gardner said. “He was everything you thought he would be.”
Now the Yankees face a possible three games to one deficit with their most inconsistent starting pitcher as A.J. Burnett takes on Tommy Hunter. Burnett pitched decently against Texas during the regular season and rescued the Yankees from a two games to none deficit in the World Series, which is among the reasons why even if outsiders to the clubhouse doubt the righty, the Yankees anticipate good things.
“He knows we’re behind him,” Teixeira said. “We expect a great game from him.”
Even if Burnett does approach somewhat close to what his teammates envision, the Yankees will have a tough time if the offense continues going this way. The Yankees have led for just two innings and are hitting .194 (19-for-98) after batting .314 in the ALDS.
“We haven’t swung the bats great,” Girardi said. “But we have seen some pretty good pitching and we are not the only lineup that they have shut down. But I still believe that we are going to hit and that we have a good offense and tomorrow’s a new day.”
A few more hitting performances like that and then the Yankees might not any more tomorrows and even if they do, they still might have to face Lee again in a possible Game Seven.
For now, they’ll just concentrate on winning a game and going from there.
“We want to think small picture,” Alex Rodriguez said. “Obviously in the big picture that would be ideal but we really got to get back on the saddle tomorrow and win a game.”
With a two-run deficit, Girardi could have decided to bring in closer Mariano Rivera since there is a not a save situation at home under that circumstance. Instead he went with Boone Logan and David Robertson, who combined to allow six runs and six hits.
“Our bullpen had been really, really good up until that point,” Girardi said. “Boone had done his job and Robby had done his job. We were down 2-0 and if you bring in Mo, you may not have him available for multiple innings tomorrow if you want to use him.”
Lee became the fourth pitcher to strike out at least 13 in a postseason game against the Yankees. The others were Carl Erskine (14) in Game 3 of the 1953 World Series for Brooklyn, Sandy Koufax in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series and Bob Gibson in Game 5 of the 1964 World Series.