10/29/09 1:04 AM ET
Yanks can't solve in-rhythm Lee
Lefty steals spotlight against heavy-hitting hosts
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
Apparently Cliff Lee missed that memo.
It may have been CC Sabathia who officially ushered in the 105th World Series with his 8:01 pm ET Game 1 first pitch Wednesday, but it was Lee who soon stole the spotlight and then reigned on center stage. Against a Yankees lineup that led the Majors in nearly every offensive category -- home runs, runs scored, total bases and on-base percentage included -- Lee stymied nearly everyone en route to sending the Yankees to a 6-1 loss at Yankee Stadium.
Talk all you want about the two battles that Sabathia lost to Chase Utley, or about the Yankees' bullpen's late-inning hiccups, but afterward those who went head-to-head against Lee spent more time pouring praise on the Phillies' ace than lamenting the mistakes of their own pitchers. In essence, it didn't matter what Sabathia or any of the other five Yankees pitchers who took the mound on Wednesday did. It wasn't going to be good enough to beat Lee.
"With the exception of [Derek] Jeter, I don't think we had any good swings at all," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "He was dominant. He seems like he's been in a rhythm for the last year and a half. He threw the ball really well tonight."
Among Lee's many impressive feats on a chilly and rainy night in the Bronx was the fact that he held Mark Teixeira and Rodriguez -- New York's potent Nos. 3 and 4 hitters -- hitless in eight combined at-bats. Five of those at-bats ended in strikeouts, all swinging.
"He was on his game today," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said. "It was everybody today. We really didn't hit today."
The avenue Lee took to his Game 1 success was no different than the postseason path that he has walked all month. Using an arsenal of four pitches that was highlighted by an especially effective cutter and curveball, Lee lived off his exceptional movement, rarely allowing the New York hitters to get comfortable.
"I knew when the first three or four innings that it was going to be a good day," Lee said, shortly after becoming the first pitcher to throw a complete game in the World Series since Josh Beckett did it against the Yankees in 2003. "I didn't know that I was going to be a complete game and go the way it was, but I knew that I had my stuff and was locating pitches."
He had come into the game 4-4 with a 5.02 ERA in nine career starts against the Yankees.
The Yankees managed just six hits in all -- two of which came in the ninth and three of which came off Jeter's bat -- and never drew a walk. In fact, New York worked Lee to a three-ball count only three times all night. Lee also fanned 10, the most by a pitcher in the World Series since Beckett struck out as many Yankees in Game 3 of the '03 Fall Classic.
It wasn't until the ninth that the Yankees were able to muster two hits in the same inning. And in fact, only once in those first eight frames was New York able to put a runner into scoring position.
"The guy's been pitching great, and he didn't make any mistakes," Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon said. "His ball was moving all over the place. He wants to pitch fast. He wants to pitch to contract. He did a great job. You have to tip your cap to him."
The Yankees' struggles against Lee were also a frustrating continuation of a World Series scoring drought that reached 17 innings before New York salvaged an unearned run in the ninth. Only two other times in club history have the Yankees endured a scoreless streak of that length.
"He went out there with a game plan and stuck to it," Jeter said. "He pitched like he has the last couple of years. He was mixing it up. That's what makes him a tough pitcher. When you move on further in the playoffs, the pitching gets better and better."
Consider Lee this World Series' first exhibit of just that.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.