Results tagged ‘ Cliff Lee ’

Front-runners jump on Giants

What is it about Game 1 of a playoff series that makes everyone want to jump the gun? One victory by the Giants Wednesday night in the World Series, and gloom and doom is predicted for the Rangers.

Sure, Texas had a bad night. The Rangers lost to what is considered an offensively-challenged team that scored 11 runs, seven of which (six earned) came against their ace, Cliff Lee, who had previously been lights out in the post-season.

Beating the Rangers on a night Lee starts is certainly a coup for the Giants, but let’s not start the victory parade in the City by the Bay just yet, shall we. Remember, this Texas team suffered a debilitating defeat in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series to the Yankees, and at home yet, and still came back to win the series in six games with Lee starting only one of them.

As the Yankees learned, momentum can shift depending on the result of Game 2. If the Rangers win the second game, as they did in the ALCS, the World Series takes a different turn with the next three games in Texas.

The big change in Game 2 is that Rangers manager Ron Washington decided to keep Vlad Guerrero on the bench. Guerrero was Texas’ designated hitter most of the year but to stay in the lineup he needed to play the field at AT&T Park in San Francisco, a National League city where the DH is barred. Once a dependable right fielder with a strong arm, Guerrero had a brutal game defensively as he committed two errors, one for each run he drove in at the plate.

AT&T Park is almost the reverse of Yankee Stadium, so playing Guerrero in spacious right field was questionable at the outset. Considering Vlad’s offensive output (.300, 29 home runs, 115 RBI), it was too tempting for Washington not to give the former AL Most Valuable Player a glove. Sitting him in Game 2 must have been a difficult decision, but it will force Giants manager Bruce Bochy to make some tough ones of his own late in the game knowing who is in that opposing dugout and ready to grab a bat.

Giants push Lee off cliff

Cliff Lee’s invincible reputation as a post-season pitcher took its first hit Wednesday night in Game 1 of the World Series. The lefthander spit out a 2-0 lead and watched from the dugout after being knocked out in the fifth inning as the Giants rolled to an 8-2 spread on the way to an 11-7 victory.

Given his previous work in the post-season this year for the Rangers and last year for the Phillies, Lee seemed in total control at 2-0. He even helped build the second run with his bat on a double off a butcher-boy swing that got tortoise-slow Bengie Molina to third base from where he scored on a fly ball by Elvis Andrus.

Door closed, everybody might have thought considering that Lee had won three starts on the road in this post-season (two at Tropicana Field and one at Yankee Stadium) with a 0.75 ERA and had a career post-season mark of 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA.

The Giants’ comeback started with their starting pitcher, Tim Lincecum, the two-time Cy Young Award winner with the violent delivery who settled in effectively after a shaky first two innings. Mitch Moreland, who doubled and was stranded in the fourth, was the only base runner off Lincecum after the Andrus sac fly until two out in the sixth when Ian Kinsler walked and scored on a double by Molina.

The Giants began chipping away in the third when an error by third baseman Michael Young opened the gate for a rally which Lee fed into by hitting a batter and giving up the second of three doubles to Freddy Sanchez. It looked as if Lee righted himself with two called strikeouts to end that inning followed by a perfect fourth. But he failed to stop San Francisco’s merry-go-round in the fifth after one-out doubles by Andres Torres and Sanchez tied the score.

After striking out Buster Posey, Lee, who never walks anybody, put Pat Burrell on with a wayward 3-2 pitch and gave up two-out singles to Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff as the Giants moved ahead. Lee was at 104 pitches, which is usually where he is in the ninth.

Juan Uribe, whose home run against the Phillies in the National League Championship Series got the Giants into the World Series, greeted reliever Darren O’Day with a three-run shot.

For Yankees fans, there was a dual pleasure in watching what happened to Lee after the way he had tormented them in the World Series last year and the American League Championship Series this year. The Yankees nearly traded for Lee in July, and it is no secret that he is high on their off-season shopping list. Should the Rangers triumph in the Series with Lee playing a major role, Texas may be able to persuade him to stay with a club on the rise located only a 40-minute flight away from his Arkansas home.

If the Rangers don’t win the Series, however, Lee might find rejoining his former Indians teammate CC Sabathia a better option. Much was made this week of a story in USA Today in which Lee’s wife, Kristen, complained about rude behavior toward Rangers family members in the stands at Yankee Stadium in which she said beer was tossed at them and that some fans in the upper deck spat upon them.

Lee said he could not blame the Yankees organization for the oafish behavior of some fans. Still, a wife’s view can be important to where a player signs. One of George Steinbrenner’s many strengths in the pursuit of free agents was his penchant for charming players’ wives in convincing them there was no better place to play, or shop, than in New York. The current front office could find Mrs. Lee to be quite a challenge.

At the seventh inning stretch at AT&T Park, Tony Bennett sang “God Bless America.” The singer, 84, has long been identified with the Bay Area because of his 1962 hit, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He is, however, a native New Yorker. The former Anthony Benedetto grew up in Astoria, Queens, in the same neighborhood as a guy named Edward Ford, who would find success with the Yankees by the nickname of “Whitey.”

Not so quiet at Stadium

It was not as quiet at Yankee Stadium Monday as you might think. Sure, the stands were empty, which is something the Yankees do not like at this time of year. Noise could be heard from several machines on the field as sod was being replaced and the infield configuration changed to accommodate off-season events such as concerts and a pair of college football games.

There were also the sounds emanating from the interview room where general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi began to address the challenges facing the Yankees in the off-season. The first order of business is that of Girardi himself. Cashman said he would meet with Girardi’s agent Tuesday to begin negotiations toward a new contract.

In discussing the team, Girardi said, “I don’t want to get into specifics when I don’t have a contract. Halloween is when my contract is up, so we’ll see if I’m a pumpkin.”

That was a joke. Rest assured that Girardi will be back. He wants to stay, and Cashman said the Yankees want him to stay, too.

That was the not the case with pitching coach Dave Eiland, who became the first off-season casualty. Cashman opened his session by announcing his decision not to retain Eiland.

“It has nothing to do with how we pitched in the playoffs,” Cashman said. “He is not being blamed. He is a good pitching coach who should have no problem getting another job.”

Cashman added that the reason was “private” and did not elaborate. The GM declined to say whether Eiland’s leave of absence in June for personal reasons was a factor.

The other piece of news to come out of the day was that Andy Pettitte had groin and back tightness in his American League Division Series start in Game 2 against the Twins. That was the main reason Girardi decided not to start him in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series in Texas and went with Phil Hughes instead. Girardi said that Pettitte’s condition was such that he wasn’t sure the lefthander could have been in position to start Game 5 of the ALDS had that series been pushed to the limit.

That decision proved fatal for the Yankees because it set up Hughes for Games 2 and 6 in the ALCS at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington, both of which he lost. I supported Girardi’s decision at the time because of the reasoning that he had put forth of having Pettitte go up against the Rangers’ Cliff Lee in Game 3 and, if necessary, Game 7, but in hindsight it hurt the Yankees.

That alone did not seal the Yankees’ faith. As poorly as they pitched (6.58 ERA), they hit even worse (.201) and were victimized by a hot team on the come, a franchise in a rejuvenation mood under the watchful eye of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, the team president.

“They dominated us at every level of the game,” Cashman said. “We led the league in scoring and run differential, but you’d never know that if you watched us in that series. Texas was a locomotive that we couldn’t withstand. Our starting pitching that had been a strength became a weakness. We didn’t see the real Yankees, but the Rangers had a lot to do with that.”

So now the Yankees have to re-fuel. Beyond Girardi, contract negotiations will center on three quarters of the “Core Four” – Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. For the second straight year, Pettitte is contemplating retirement. Rivera is 40 and showed some cracks during the season but remains head and shoulders over closers in the game. As for Jeter, there is the specter of a .270 regular season and .231 post-season that may be indications of advancing age.

Jeter will turn 37 during the 2011 season, and the question was raised about how long he will remain a shortstop.

“It is not something to get into now,” Girardi said. “I’m not assuming he is going to change positions. I still think he can play at a very high level.”

Girardi acknowledged, however, that Jeter as well as his long-time teammate Jorge Posada will have to be spelled on occasion more often.

“We played Derek more than we wanted,” Girardi said. “He has always played a lot of games, but we had stretches this year where he played 17, 18 days in a row and in one period 27 out of 28 days. We needed to play him every day when Alex [Rodriguez] was out. We found out with Jorgie that three games in a row [as a catcher] might be his limit. It will be important for Jeet and A-Rod to have DH days.”

“You look old when you don’t play well,” Cashman said. “We didn’t look old against Minnesota the week before. Texas made us look old.”

Both men pointed out that the Yankees have strived to get younger over the past year and are not old in the outfield with Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner or on the right side of the infield with first baseman Mark Teixeira and second baseman Robinson Cano. Cashman said that catching prospect Jesus Montero will get a shot at making the club in spring training. Eduardo Nunez will also likely blend himself into the infield picture.

Cashman tried to trade for Lee in July and almost had a deal. The lefthander can be a free agent at the end of the World Series. The Yankees are hoping his friendship with CC Sabathia will be an asset in their pursuit. Until then, Lee has unfinished business beginning with his start Wednesday night in Game 1 of the World Series. How Texas fares in the franchise’s first trip to the big dance in its 50th season may have a lot to with which way Lee leans in an off-season that has yet to begin for him but already has for the Yankees.

Another sub-par job by a Yanks starter

Thunderstorms threatened to hold up the start of Game 6 of the American League Championship Series Friday night at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington, but skies cleared to get the game under way. That was good news for the Yankees. A rainout would have allowed the Rangers to start Cliff Lee in Game 6 Saturday night.

Tired of hearing about Lee? So are the Yankees, especially Nick Swisher, whose profanity-laden response to queries about Lee from reporters was fodder for talk radio in Texas. It was kind of silly, really. Who can blame Swisher for getting hot when asked about Texas’ Game 7 starter when they hadn’t even played Game 6 yet.

It was odd to view CC Sabathia sitting in the bullpen. Counting post-season play, Sabathia has pitched in 335 major-league games, all of them starts. Friday was CC’s throw day between starts, but he didn’t have his usual session and was available to Yankees manager Joe Girardi for around 50 pitches if needed.

Help was needed in the fifth inning as Girardi had to replace Phil Hughes after Vlad Guerrero’s two-run double unlocked a 1-1 score, but it was David Robertson, not Sabathia, who came into the game and was greeted by a two-run home run by Nelson Cruz.

Hughes seemed to have settled down after a shaky first inning when the Rangers broke through for the first run and did not allow another hit until Guerrero’s game breaker. The Texas designated hitter got his first RBI of the series in the first inning with an infield out, but the Yankees continued to challenge him.

They walked Josh Hamilton intentionally with two down in the third to face Guerrero, and it worked as he popped out. The purposeful walk had a glitch as Hughes threw a wild pitch on one of the throws. With two out in the fifth and a runner on second, the Yankees walked Hamilton again. This time it backfired as Guerrero crushed a hanging breaking ball for a double to left-center.

Hughes’ outing was the latest sub-par one in the series for a Yankees starter. The rotation has a 7.11 ERA in the series, having allowed 25 earned runs and 42 hits in 31 2/3 innings. Speaking of unsightly ERAs, there is the 20.25 belonging to Robertson.

The Yankees were lucky to have the run they did against Texas starter Colby Lewis. It came on a wild pitch that video replays revealed had actually hit Swisher in the shin at the plate and should have been a dead ball. Shortly after that, Swisher was probably hoping and praying that the Yankees would get one more shot at Cliff Lee.

Yanks send ALCS back to Texas

We have still yet to see in the post-season the CC Sabathia who was a Cy Young Award candidate during the regular season. Despite that, the lefthander is undefeated in three starts and played a major role Wednesday in keeping the American League Championship Series alive for the Yankees.

Just as a late-inning rally by the Yankees in Game 1 took him off the hook in a lackluster outing, Sabathia took the Yankees off a hook in Game 5 that might have ended their season with a serviceable performance that was still good enough to prevent the Rangers from clinching their first invitation to the World Series.

The Yankees’ climb in the ALCS remains uphill, but they at least earned a return trip to Texas, which is all they could hope for after having lost three of the first four games in the series. Who would have thought they would look forward to another date with Cliff Lee? That would come in Game 7, another victory away.

Sabathia was far from dominant. The Rangers reached him for 11 hits, but only one – a home run by catcher Matt Treanor in the sixth – did any tangible damage. The other run off him came on an infield out. In many ways, Texas let Sabathia off the hook. The Rangers stranded eight runners – six in scoring position – in his six innings. A pair of double plays served as part of the rescue party for Sabathia.

“He made key pitches when he had to,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said of Sabathia. “That’s why he’s the pitcher that he is and won all the games that he won this year.”

“I felt more prepared than I was in Game 1,” CC said. “I wanted to keep us in it and make the pitches I needed to.”

The bug guy didn’t hurt himself with walks (none). He had seven strikeouts, including a big one on Mitch Moreland looking at a slider with runners on second and third with his 112th and last pitch. Sabathia has allowed 22 hits in 16 innings and has a 5.63 ERA in his three post-season starts, but his record is 2-0 and the Yankees 3-0 in those games.

That the Yankees won behind Sabathia will only lend credence to the critics of manager Joe Girardi’s decision not to have CC start Game 4 instead of A.J. Burnett. It is too late for all that. One more time: the Yankees needed a fourth starter in the ALCS – who else you got? Whether Burnett should have pitched beyond five innings in Game 4, well, that is another argument and one that does the Yankees no good in rehashing now.

The Game 5 victory had the Yankees looking ahead, not behind. Their bats were noisier with home runs by Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano (four in the ALCS) and Curtis Granderson and doubles by Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Granderson, pretty good amplification without Mark Teixeira, out for the rest of the series with a strained right hamstring.

Texas lost left fielder Nelson Cruz to a tight hamstring in the fifth, but the injury may not be as serious as that of Teixeira.

The extra-base hits were important for the Yankees because they still were anemic in the clutch. They had two hits in 11 at-bats (.182) with runners in scoring position and are 8-for-51 (.157) in the series in those situations.

The Rangers, who could have closed out the series with a victory, displayed a sloppiness not previously seen in the series. They threw the ball over the lot in the Yankees’ three-run third inning. In the seventh, Elvis Andrus, who had three hits and a stolen base, got himself picked off second base by Kerry Wood, who also picked Ian Kinsler off first base in Game 1.

The Yankees’ play in the field was flawless.

“There was determination on our part,” Girardi said. “We haven’t played our best in this series. But I saw the mood during batting practice, and the guys knew what we had to do.”

So the Yankees are on their way to Texas, and Yankees fans hope there will still be more games at Yankee Stadium this year. That would mean there would be another World Series in the Bronx.

Yanks facing possible elimination

Give A.J. Burnett a D. I think that is fair. I know it is kind.

He was working on a C Tuesday night in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series before his outing came apart in the sixth inning when he lost the sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium that had been supporting him from the first pitch.

Fans knew the importance of this game and decided to get behind the righthander who had pitched so erratically during the regular season.

In the end, Burnett’s performance was a microcosm of his season. He blew both leads the Yankees gave him and was cascaded with boos as he walked off the mound in the sixth only moments after giving up a three-run home run to Bengie Molina. Last year, another of the Molina brothers, Jose, had been an ally of Burnett’s as his regular catcher.

But not this Molina, whose drive into the left field lower stands was on the pitch after an intentional walk to David Murphy and gave the Rangers a 5-3 lead. Setting up the situation was heads-up base running by Nelson Cruz, who advanced from first to second base tagging up after a flyout to deep center by Ian Kinsler. That opened first base for the intentional walk to Murphy.

Burnett’s line: 6 innings, 6 hits, 5 runs, 5 earned runs, 3 bases on balls (1 intentional), 4 strikeouts, 1 wild pitch, 1 hit batter, 1 home run, 1 stolen base allowed. Doesn’t that all look familiar?

The crowd’s anger toward Burnett seemed to spill over to manager Joe Girardi, whose unrewarded faith in the pitcher put him in the fans’ crosshairs. It didn’t help that he brought in lefthander Boone Logan to pitch to left-swinging Josh Hamilton, who slugged his third home run of the ALCS. His fourth of the series and second of the game would come in the ninth when Texas piled on three more runs off Sergio Mitre in the 10-3 victory that has pushed the Rangers within one victory of the World Series.

Before then, the Yankees came close to having an opening in the eighth inning against the same four pitchers they staged that five-run, eighth-inning rally in Game 1. They loaded the bases on walks, but once again could not come up with the big hit. Nick Swisher popped out behind second base, and Lance Berkman hit a scorching grounder to third baseman Michael Young, who picked it in a way that he did not against Alex Rodriguez in Game 1.

Derek Holland got a well-deserved victory with 3 2/3 innings of impressive relief. He stopped the bleeding in the fourth inning when the Yankees regained the lead against starter Tommy Hunter, pitched out of jam in the fifth and retired the side in order the next two innings before departing after a leadoff walk of Curtis Granderson in the eighth.

The Yankees need CC Sabathia Wednesday in Game 5 to pitch them to Texas. The loss not only puts the Yankees on the brink of elimination from the post-season but also guarantees that the only way they can return to the World Series is to win three straight games, including Game 7 against Cliff Lee.

On top of that, the Yankees will have to proceed through this minefield without Mark Teixeira, who was forced out of the game in the fifth inning due to a pulled right hamstring while running to first base. Tex told Girardi he felt a “pop” in the hamstring. That’s not a good sound. The Yankees can only hope the next sound they hear is not that of a pennant dropping.

Gallant effort from Andy

It was almost déjà vu all over again for Andy Pettitte in the sixth inning Monday night. Following the same pattern as the first inning, Elvis Andrus grounded out on a slow roller fielded by Pettitte and Michael Young singled. Josh Hamilton then hit a fly ball to deep right field.

Unlike the first inning when the ball landed in the stands for a two-run home run, Hamilton’s drive off a hanging slider didn’t have the same distance in the sixth, and Nick Swisher gloved it in front of the wall. Pettitte ended the inning by getting a third strike past Vlad Guerrero, who is having a brutal series.

The Yankee Stadium crowd got excited when Brett Gardner led off the bottom of the sixth by shooting a single through the middle. Fans may have visions of another big rally started by Gardner in the eighth inning of Game 1. With Derek Jeter up, Gardner stole second, thereby becoming the first runner in the game to move into scoring position (Young was on first base when Hamilton homered in the first).

Cliff Lee muscled up and struck out Jeter on a 2-2 fastball. It was the 10th strikeout of the game for Lee, who became the first pitcher to reach double figures in strikeouts in three consecutive post-season games in the same year. The only other pitcher to do that was Hall of Famer Bob Gibson in his last appearance in the 1967 World Series for the Cardinals against the Red Sox and his first two starts in the 1968 Series against the Tigers.

Gardner was able to advance to third base as Swisher grounded out to the right side, but Lee held tough and got Mark Teixeira on a grounder to short. The Yankees were raising Lee’s pitch count, but not in the best way with all those strikeouts. His 100th pitch retired Alex Rodriguez leading off the seventh.

As for Pettitte, he stayed toe to toe with Lee for seven innings in another sturdy post-season performance. But this was beginning to look like Game 6 of the 2003 World Series against the Marlins when Pettitte battled Josh Beckett, who held the Yankees in check as Florida triumphed.

Speaking of post-season heroes, the Stadium crowd got a look at three of them in attendance who were shown on the on the giant video screen in center field – El Duque Hernandez, Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neill. Tino also threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Maybe the Yankees’ best chances were to put them back in uniform.

Of Lee and legalities

Let’s clear up the issue about the gunk on Cliff Lee’s cap. Some people in the media seem obsessed with it, which doesn’t make sense. If there was anything illegal about it, don’t you think Lee would have been told by umpires to clean it up by now?

The reason they haven’t is because there is nothing in the rules of baseball preventing a pitcher from using resin on his cap or anywhere else. Resin is not an illegal substance in baseball. It is used to help pitchers keep their hands dry. When mixed with perspiration, which Lee’s often is by sweaty fingers rubbing against resin, the combination can improve a pitcher’s grip.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has dispelled the notion that Lee is pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes, which is the approach to take because to do otherwise would put an idea in his hitters’ minds that they do not need. Dealing with Lee’s pitches is hard enough.

The suspicion by some is that what is on Lee’s cap is not resin but actually pine tar, which is legal for use on bats but not balls. Come on, why would he put if where everyone could see it? Girardi did the right thing by not taking issue with it. If Lee really is loading up the ball – and I don’t think he is – the gunky cap would only be a diversion as he applied the illegal substance from somewhere else.

The last thing the Yankees needed was to fall behind early again with Lee on the mound, but they did as Josh Hamilton hit his second first-inning home run of the series, this one a two-run shot off a 2-1 cutter from Andy Pettitte, who otherwise was at the top of his game in the early going.

Lee, meanwhile, was perfect through the first three innings, although Brett Gardner might have been safe on another of those slide-into-first-base attempts for a hit, which was successful in Game 1 to start the eighth-inning comeback but did not work this time.

From my way of thinking, Gardy lost a golden opportunity to send Lee a message. The pitcher was covering first on the play and crossed over it to take the throw from first baseman Mitch Moreland. Instead of sliding, Gardner could have run through the bag and knocked the lefthander butt over teakettle. It would have been perfectly legal, too.

Pen, late lightning ignite Yankees

The Yankees are dipping into their 2009 formula in the 2010 post-season. Late-inning heroics characterized their championship season last year, and the Yankees have come from behind impressively in three of the four playoff games this time around.

It doesn’t get better than what they pulled off Friday night in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Down 5-0 entering the seventh inning and looking as dead as ace CC Sabathia did in falling behind by so much so early, the Yankees showed the Rangers they simply will not fold so long as they have some at-bats left.

They forced four Texas relievers into submission in a five-run eighth inning that featured five hits and two walks. Seven consecutive batters reached base before the Rangers got an out that inning, and the out was a ball caught at the wall in right field that missed by a matter of feet being a three-run home run for Jorge Posada.

The Rangers still have yet to win a post-season game in their handsome ballpark, and the Yankees still haven’t lost a road game in this year’s tournament. They showed Texas how much they will fight to get another trip to the World Series.

The Rangers were not out of the game by any means after the Yankees took the lead. It was still a one-run game, but the Rangers hurt themselves with a huge rock in the bottom of the eighth. Kerry Wood walked Ian Kinsler on four pitches, an open invitation to Texas to get back in the game. Kinsler got himself picked off, which is inexcusable in that circumstance.

The Yankees failed to get an insurance run in the ninth by stranding Derek Jeter, who led off with a double. Texas became the first team to beat Mariano Rivera twice in the same season this year and posed another threat in the ninth when pinch hitter Mitch Moreland led off with a single and was bunted to second. Mo shut the door, however, as the Yankees finished off a victory that can have major consequences on the rest of the series.

They have already accomplished what they needed to do by winning at least one game at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington and have a chance to go home 2-0 if they can win again Saturday. To lose on a night when Sabathia was not his usual self could be a crushing blow to the Rangers, who could have put a ton of pressure on the Yankees by winning the first two games at home and having Cliff Lee start Game 3 at Yankee Stadium.

Game 1 turned into a bullpen game, and the Yankees got five shutout innings combined from Rivera, Wood, Joba Chamberlain and Dustin Moseley. The winning decision went to Moseley, which was appropriate. Too often, such a job gets unrewarded because of the timing of the scoring. Moseley’s two hitless innings with four strikeouts kept the Yankees in position to turn things around, which they did in their usual patient, persistent manner.

One rival gone, another in sight

The Yankees are finally rid of the Rays. It took all year and the help of another team, but Tampa Bay, which shadowed the Yankees all year in one of the tightest division raves races ever, is on the sideline while its American League East competitor will start the AL Championship Series against the Rangers Friday night in Arlington.

The Yankees and the Rays were never more than 2 ½ games removed from each other from July 27 on and were tied 14 times from then until the last day of the season when the Bombers lost in Boston and Tampa Bay won in Kansas City to clinch the division and home field advantage in the playoffs with the best record in the league.

Small good it did the Rays as they lost all three games to Texas at Tropicana Field. Meanwhile, the Yankees swept the Twins with the first two victories coming at Target Field. So the ALCS features two clubs that have yet to lose a post-season game on the road this year.

Perhaps the wild card will turn into a big, fat ace for the Yankees, who have already gotten over the hump with their Division Series triumph, the first time they won a post-season series as a wild-card entry. They had failed to advance to the ALCS in three previous cases, losing to the Mariners in 1995 and to the Indians in 1997 and 2007.

Another break for the Yankees was the Rangers-Rays series going the full five games, forcing Texas and Tampa Bay to use their No. 1 starters, Cliff Lee and David Price, respectively, for the clinching game and thereby making each unavailable in the ALCS until at least Game 3. That’s where it stands now with Lee, who pitched the Rangers to the first post-season series victory in franchise history.

The Yankees know all about Lee, who beat them twice last year in the World Series with the Phillies and who might have worn pinstripes this year if a proposed trade had not fallen through in early July. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was prepared to deal catching prospect Jesus Montero and a couple of other prospects for Lee but not if infielder Eduardo Nunez was one of them.

I can’t say I blame him. Nunez looks like a player with big-league potential, including as a base runner with speed, a quality in short supply in the Bronx. On top of that, Lee is eligible for free agency in the off-season, so the Yankees just may be able to persuade him to sign with them and not have to give up any players in return.

Whatever advantage the Yankees may appear to have in the ALCS would go out the window if they do not win at least one of the games in Texas and preferably two. CC Sabathia was always the choice to start Game 1, of course, and manager Joe Girardi made a good decision in lining up Phil Hughes for Game 2 and Andy Pettitte for Game 3, which is the opposite from the ALDS rotation.

The reasons were clear: Hughes’ career mark at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington (2-0 with 15 1/3 scoreless innings) and Pettitte’s post-season experience. Game 3 at Yankee Stadium looms large since that is when Lee will start for the Rangers. That would put him in line to start a possible Game 7 in Texas for all the marbles opposite Pettitte and every other pitcher on the staff. It would, after all, be the last game of the year, so everyone with any life left in his arm is eligible.

Gaining a split in Texas is essential for the Yankees, who after Game 3 would then have to rely on A.J. Burnett in Game 4 before coming back with Sabathia in Game 5. That could change, naturally, depending on where the series stands at that point. Burnett could atone for his sub-par regular season with a decent effort in Game 4, but there was very little evidence in the second half of the season that the righthander can deliver on such a promise.

The Yankees’ last trip to Arlington Sept. 10-12 was a disaster, a three-game sweep that included two walk-offs – including a blown save by Mariano Rivera – and a two-hit, eight-inning gem by Lee. The Yankees simply cannot afford anything close to a repeat of that performance.

The Yankees have a 9-1 post-season record against Texas in Division Series play of 1996, ’98 and ’99 and are riding a nine-game winning streak (the Rangers won Game 1 in 1996 at the Stadium). The Yankees’ Core Four may still be intact from those years, but Darren Oliver is the lone Ranger remaining from that time. This is mostly a new bunch of cowboys in Nolan Ryan’s corral.

Just ask the team that dogged the Yankees all year.

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