Look at it this way, if Cliff Lee beats the Yankees here tonight in Game 3 of the ALCS they'll have to beat the Texas Rangers in three consecutive games or else face him again in Game 7 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Saturday.
Of course to take a 2-1 series lead the Rangers will have to perform a couple tough tasks: Win here in New York, which they didn't do during the regular season (they were swept in April with guys named Scott Feldman and Rich Harden on the mound). And beat Andy Pettitte, baseball's all-time leader in playoff wins (19), starts (41) and innings (256).
The Yankees arrive at Game 3 confident, because they're at home and because Pettitte is 19-9 with a 3.87 ERA in the postseason starts. He gave up two runs in seven innings against the Twins in the ALDS and is 2-0 with a 2.61 ERA in three playoff starts against the Rangers, most recently in 1999. Pettitte also beat the Rangers 5-2, in April at Yankee Stadium.
The Rangers arrive at Game 3 confident, because they've dominated the Yanks in 17 of this series' 18 innings and because, of course, Lee. In seven post-season starts he's 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA, two of those wins coming over NY.
In the clubhouse after Game 2 Saturday night, the Rangers' blared Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind."
But around New York yesterday and this morning I get the feeling no one is yet taking the Rangers as a serious threat.
Lee's post-season mastery is historic. And he ain't afraid of the bright lights and big stage of The Bronx in the Fall.
In his last five starts in Yankee Stadium Lee is 5-0 with a 1.67 ERA and two complete games, including a six-hitter in the '09 World Series. He was 2-0 for the Phillies against the Yankees in last year's Series.
On September 12 in Arlington, he limited New York to only two hits in a 4-1 Rangers' win.
As if he needed any motivation, that damned New York media is helping him out by calling him, yes, a cheater. Last week Yankees' TV voice Michael Kay suggested on his radio show that Lee has a "dirty" hat, a combination of rosin buildup and the pitcher's own sweat that produces a "tackiness" that makes it easier to grip the ball, thus giving Lee an unfair advantage.
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Really Yankees? You're that scared of Lee?
"It definitely makes me way better. I know that much. Without that hat, I don't know if I could do it. I don't know," Lee said sarcastically. "It's rosin is what it is. I go to the rosin bag quite a bit. I touch my hat in the same place over and over. And it just accumulates."
The ALCS has been tied 1-1 19 times. The winner of Game 3 has gone on to win the series 14 times.
Want more confidence Rangers fans? Texas is 1-12 all-time in the playoffs in red caps; 4-0 in blue caps. Tonight? Blue caps.