Lee baffles Yankees in Rangers' rout
New York musters just two hits vs. Texas ace in Game 3
NEW YORK -- It was with evenings like this in mind that the Yankees pushed to acquire Cliff Lee near the season's midpoint, envisioning the left-hander doing his best work under the bright lights of another postseason run in the Bronx.
But Lee was never fitted for those for pinstripes, and he now may be the most intimidating force standing in the way of a World Series repeat. Lee was dominant again on Monday, striking out 13 as the Rangers defeated the Yankees, 8-0, in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
"It's always a challenge when you face him," said Yankees captain Derek Jeter. "He doesn't beat himself. He doesn't walk guys. He hits spots. He knows what to do. And he shut us down. This is one of those games you try to forget about as soon as possible."
The worst shutout loss in Yankees history puts New York at a 2-1 series disadvantage, looking ahead to Game 4 of the ALCS, which is scheduled to be played at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday.
In the early morning hours of July 10, it was considered to be so much of a given that Lee was heading to the Yankees that the lefty was firing text messages to former Indians teammate CC Sabathia, trying to get the scoop on neighborhoods in the New York area where he might settle for the remainder of the season.
A deal in principle with the Mariners fell through, and by the end of the day, Lee was scrambling to board a flight to Texas. But after beating the Yankees twice in the World Series last year while pitching for the Phillies, Lee seems to need no further introduction to making Yankee Stadium his office.
The Yankees were held hitless into the fifth inning on Monday, when Jorge Posada finally broke up the no-hit bid by dunking a single into right field. They'd net only one more hit, a Brett Gardner single in the sixth, and Mark Teixeira's fourth-inning walk to show for their night.
"It's tough to be any better -- any better and it's a perfect game," Teixeira said. "He lived on the corners. It's one thing if a guy is all over the place and you can work walks. A lot of guys went up there trying to be aggressive, and he wasn't giving it to us."
2-1 ALCS ADVANTAGE
|Year||Team up 2-1||Opponent||Final|
|1993||Blue Jays||White Sox||4-2|
Before blowing the game open in an ugly six-run ninth inning, sending 10 men to the plate and scoring six runs off relievers Boone Logan and David Robertson, Texas notched the only runs it would need on Josh Hamilton's second-inning home run off Andy Pettitte.
"Any time you can get that deep in the game and not give up any runs in the postseason, that's huge," Lee said. "So Josh hitting that home run in the first made things a lot easier, that's for sure."
Overshadowed by Lee in all of the pregame hype and again during the course of the game, Pettitte saw his scorched cutter to Hamilton land in the right-field seats, the only blemish on a sharp seven-inning, five-hit outing. With Lee so good, it was more than enough.
"Cliff was great tonight, to say the least," Pettitte said. "He was just outstanding. You can't say enough about what he did tonight in this ballpark. To be able to do what he did is pretty impressive."
New York had some chances to get to Lee -- Gardner tried his luck with a head-first slide on a grounder in the third and might have beaten the play, but his left hand skidded past the first-base bag. Gardner was called out to end the inning, as Lee nonchalantly flipped the ball and sprinted for the dugout.
Teixeira drew a loud roar for working a full-count walk in the fourth inning, breaking up a string of 11 straight batters retired by Lee -- the last of whom was Nick Swisher on a strikeout, albeit in an 11-pitch at-bat that also produced cheers. Alex Rodriguez ended that frame with a bullet line drive -- on the first pitch of his at-bat -- that died in left-center field.
"We haven't swung the bats great," manager Joe 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."
Pettitte nearly matched Lee, but he could not erase the homer he surrendered to Hamilton in the first inning with Michael Young aboard. Pettitte had allowed only two home runs to left-handed batters all year, both of them by the Rays' Carlos Pena.
"He didn't even hit it that good -- caught it out front," Pettitte said. "And if you catch a ball and hit it on the barrel at this stadium, it's a home run, unfortunately. Literally, it hurts. You wish he would have fouled it off or something."
After the Hamilton homer, Pettitte retired 15 of the next 16 Rangers he faced and was done after seven, having walked none and struck out five. He was acknowledged by a standing ovation, and -- with the left-hander at age 38 -- there is a possibility that it could have been Pettitte's final Yankee Stadium moment.
"Sitting in the clubhouse, you kind of think about that," Pettitte said. "But then there's a lot of baseball to be played. And I feel real good about our team and about the club that we have."
Lee's 13 strikeouts made him the first pitcher in postseason history to have three games of 10 or more strikeouts in a single postseason. The last of his victims -- ending the eighth -- was Gardner, who was impressed to see Lee just as crisp with pitches 120, 121 and 122 as he had been the first times around.
"Three pitches, right on the black, an inch off the plate and you walk back to the dugout," Gardner said. "He put it right where he wanted to put it. No matter how hard you try or no matter what you do, you can't seem to get anything going."
It was, the Yankees had to agree, just the type of performance that made Lee so coveted as a free agent -- and again in July. But they were in no position to wonder what might have been.
"You can't live with 'What if?'" Curtis Granderson said. "You just live with what's going on right now. We like our team. I'm sure any team in Major League Baseball would love to have him on their pitching staff, the way he's pitched over the last couple of seasons."
And Lee has chosen the perfect time -- once again -- to showcase his wares to a most captive audience. Rangers president Nolan Ryan cracked as much, when asked how much it might now possibly cost to keep Lee plying his trade in the state of Texas.
"You'll have to go next door and ask them," Ryan said. "I think he's got their attention."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.