October 19, 2010
When we look back on the 2010 season, we'll find that there were a few instances in which a pitcher met and then somehow exceeded the unbelievable hype that had been generated for him before the game.
Actually, that's not quite accurate as Lee was already a member of the group after turning in dominant bookend performances against the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS.
Related video: Watch Lee dominate the Yankees
Lee's spanking of the New York Yankees on Monday night, however, feels like it deserves a class of its own. After two days of being continuously touted as an unbeatable Godzilla, Lee proved that he deserved every ounce of hyperbole with an 8-0 win that gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead in the ALCS.
Using the template he set against the Rays, Lee struck out 13 Yankees batters and walked only one over eight innings. New York's top seven batters were a combined 0-for-20 against Lee and the two hits he allowed — singles to Brett Gardner(notes) and Jorge Posada(notes) — weren't of the convincing hard-hit sort.
Simply put, baseball's most expensive lineup was lucky it wasn't on the wrong end of a no-hitter. As it was, the three Yankees baserunners made for the lowest total in team playoff history.
"It was a pretty good game," the humble Lee told TBS' Craig Sager after the game.
Good? Yeah, you could say that as Lee put together the type of signature victory that Halladay notched with his no-hitter of the Reds and Lincecum got by striking out 14 Braves.
But both of those pitchers, however, still have a ways to go to match Lee's 2010 postseason resume. Through three playoff starts this October, Lee has a 0.75 ERA, an unthinkable 34-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio and three straight starts with 10 or more strikeouts. No pitcher has ever done that in the postseason before.
As @MarkZuckerman points out, Lee is not only pushing the Rangers toward their first World Series appearance, but putting up historic numbers while doing it.
Check out this comparison:
Sandy Koufax, 1965 World Series: 24 IP, 13 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 29 K
Cliff Lee, 2010 postseason: 24 IP, 13 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 34 K
With Lee's free agency looming this offseason, there seems to be a sense that he could share another similarity with Koufax by going to pitch for a New York team. That opportunity would most likely come with Monday's victims, the Yankees, and even Texas owner Nolan Ryan was alluding to the possibility after Game 3.
"Go across the hall and ask them," Ryan said in reference to the Yankees when asked how much it would cost to re-sign Lee over the winter.
The possibility of being able to wield Lee as a postseason weapon next October might be too much for the Steinbrenners to sit on their checkbooks.
Looking ahead to that signing, though, takes away our attention from the unbelievable baseball that's being pitched by Lee right now.
It's unbelievable in so many ways that we could have expected.
And even more so in many ways that we could not.