Andy Pettitte, the pitcher with the most wins in the postseason, threw one his better games in October, but the Yankees still lost. In fact, they never really had a chance. That’s how good Cliff Lee was last night, as the Rangers’ ace joined Warren Spahn, Randy Johnson and Sandy Koufax as lefties who have dominated the Bronx Bombers in the postseason.
Game three of the ALCS was basically over before it started when Josh Hamilton belted a two run homer only three batters into the game. Against a mortal pitcher, such a blow would hardly register as a blip on the Yankees’ radar, but with Lee toeing the rubber in opposition, Hamilton’s blast could have been measured on the Richter scale. By the end of the bottom of the first, it was evident that the Rangers’ ace was on his game and the Yankees chances of overcoming the deficit were slim.
To his credit, Pettitte rebounded from the home run to allow only three more hits in 6 2/3 scoreless innings, but that was just window dressing. With Lee mowing down the Yankees in the bottom half of each frame, the only purpose of the Rangers’ at bats was to delay the inevitable. Lee didn’t allow his first base runner until walking Mark Teixeira in the fourth and his first hit until a bloop single by Jorge Posada in the fifth, but each “rally” occurred with two outs and was quickly extinguished. The Yankees only real scoring chance took place in the sixth after Brett Gardner singled up the middle and stole second base with no outs. Lee responded to the threat by striking out Jeter and inducing two weak groundouts from Swisher and Teixeira, and what passed for the Yankees’ offense was once again turned aside.
The Yankees only hope to steal the game rested on Ron Washington’s infatuation with overusing his bullpen. Before he could get the chance, however, the Yankees’ bullpen was the one that proved to be incendiary. In the top of the ninth, the Rangers salted the game away with six runs scored off Boone Logan and David Robertson, leaving little need to run Lee back out to the mound in the bottom of the inning with 120 pitches. After the game, Joe Girardi was criticized for falling to go to his closer in the ninth inning, but with Lee still in the game, the Yankees two run deficit was really more like eight runs. Instead, the more valid criticism once again falls at the feet of Washington, who did use his closer, Neftali Feliz, to protect an actual eight run lead. Feliz needed 20 pitches to complete inning, so if he is unavailable or limited later in the series, you can point to Washington’s curious decision.
Although the story of last night’s game was the dominance of Cliff Lee, the postgame attention quickly turned to AJ Burnett, upon whose erratic right arm the Yankees’ season now rests. It didn’t have to be this way, of course. The Rangers entered the ALCS with their rotation dictated by a five game ALDS, but the Yankees had the opportunity to line their starters up. The ideal plan seemed to involve Sabathia for games 1, 4 and 7, Pettitte in games 2 and 6 and then Burnett against Lee and Hughes in game 5. Because the Rangers actually hit better against righties, especially hard throwing ones, using Sabathia and Pettitte (on full rest) for five games should have been the centerpiece of any plan, especially because three of those matchups (against Tommy Hunter and two against Colby Lewis) would have highly favored the Yankees. Furthermore, Hughes has struggled when pitching on long rest (8.04 ERA and 1.101 OPS against in three starts with greater than six days rest), so a game five start would have permitted him to throw an inning in games 1 or 2. Finally, pairing Burnett against Lee would have either leveraged AJ’s potential to be dominant, or mitigated his propensity for being awful.
All of that is water under the bridge now as the Yankees turn to AJ Burnett to even the ALCS at two games. Of course, if the Yankees’ lineup continues to struggle, it won’t matter who takes the mound for them. As a team, the Yankees are hitting .194/.288/.296, but without Robinson Cano’s contribution, that falls to .163/.270/.198. In the middle of the order, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira have a combined OPS of .522, while Jorge Posada, Marcus Thames and Nick Swisher, all with an OPS below. 500, haven’t been much better. In other words, as great as Lee was last night, the Yankees have made just about every starter look like an ace in this series. If that doesn’t change soon, the ALCS will not be returning to Texas.
Historic Aspects of Game 3 of the ALCS
- The Yankees 8-0 loss was the most lopsided shutout in the team’s postseason history.
- The Yankees three base runners were the fewest recorded by the team in a postseason game. The team’s two hits also matched an all-time low, joining game 3 of the 2001 ALDS (Barry Zito) and game 4 of the 1958 World Series (Warren Spahn).
- Cliff Lee’s 13 strikeouts was the third highest total recorded by a pitcher against the Yankees in the postseason, matching Bob Gibson’s performance in the 1964 World Series. Only Sandy Koufax (15 in the 1963 World Series) and Carl Erskine (14 in the 1953 World Series) had more.
- The Yankees 15 strikeouts matched the franchise’s postseason high for a nine inning game (Koufax in game one of the 1963 World Series).
- The five earned runs surrendered by David Robertson was the third highest total allowed by a Yankees’ reliever in the postseason. Only Jay Witasick (eight in 1 1/3 innings during the2001 World Series) and Hideki Irabu (seven in 4 2/3 innings during the 1999 ALCS) allowed more.
Top-10 Postseason Games Pitched Against the Yankees, by Game Score
|Randy Johnson||10/28/2001||WS||2||ARI||W 4-0||9||3||0||11||91|
|Cliff Lee||10/18/2010||ALCS||3||TEX||W 8-0||8||2||0||13||90|
|Don Drysdale||10/5/1963||WS||3||LAD||W 1-0||9||3||0||9||89|
|Warren Spahn||10/5/1958||WS||4||MLN||W 3-0||9||2||0||7||88|
|Bob Gibson||10/12/1964||WS||5||STL||W 5-2||10||6||0||13||87|
|Jack Sanford||10/5/1962||WS||2||SFG||W 2-0||9||3||0||6||84|
|Josh Beckett||10/25/2003||WS||6||FLA||W 2-0||9||5||0||9||84|
|Cliff Lee||10/28/2009||WS||1||PHI||W 6-1||9||6||0||10||83|
|Pedro Martinez||10/16/1999||ALCS||3||BOS||W 13-1||7||2||0||12||83|
|Pete Alexander||10/3/1926||WS||2||STL||W 6-2||9||4||1||10||82|