BRONX, NY – Cliff Lee was so superb he struck out Alex Rodriguez three times, Mark Teixeira want hitless in four at bats, and the lower part of the New York Yankees batting order could do nothing as Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher and Melky Cabrera went a combined 0-for-9. The Yankees with CC Sabathia on the mound lost their first postseason game in the Bronx and more importantly the Phillies took the first game of the World Series 6-1.
Lee had the confidence with a good slider, an effective changeup and his usual good fastball and limited the Yankees to six hits, striking out 10 and issuing one walk. In his World Series debut, Lee got his third win in the postseason and lowered his ERA to 0.54, the seventh lowest all-time in postseason play among pitchers with at least 20.0 innings.
More importantly, Lee showed no signs of being nervous and now the Yankees are faced with trying to even the series at home Thursday evening, facing another lefthander, the familiar face of Pedro Martinez. It is the first time this postseason that the Yankees trail in a series.
“Game time is the time go out there and have fun and let your skills take over,” commented Lee who was acquired by the Phillies from Cleveland before the trading deadline on July 29th. And his acquisition could be a major reason why the Phillies are in position to win consecutive World Series titles.
Sabathia got off to a slow start and got out of a bases loaded situation in the first inning on a misty and cold night in the Bronx. The Yankees, back in the Fall Classic after a six year absence knew they would expect Lee to be on his game. Sabathia also threw two solo home run balls to Chase Utley who became the second left handed batter in World Series history to hit two home runs off a lefthander pitcher in one game.
“It’s kind of weird,” said Lee about his performance that had the record new Yankee Stadium crowd of 50,207 come to a hush when he constantly retired the powerful bats in the Yankees lineup. “Boils down to confidence and trusting your teammates,” he said.
Lee’s 10 strikeouts were the most by a pitcher in a World Series game since Florida’s Josh Beckett fanned 10 on October 21, 2003 in game 3 when the Yankees opposed Florida. “He kept us off balance,” said Yankee manager Joe Girardi about Lee. “He got us to chase some pitches when we were down in the count, up in the zone. He used his cutter very well. He used his curveball very well.”
The Yankees seemed to be frustrated, though Girardi downplayed that thought. “As far as being frustrated, our guys will grind it out,” he said. I’m not concerned about that” The only concern may be how the Yankees bounce back Thursday evening when A.J. Burnett takes the mound. Girardi also said he would also contemplate keeping catcher Jorge Posada in the lineup instead of inserting Joe Molina who usually is in there when Burnett is on the mound.
“He mixes it up,” said the Yankees Derek Jeter about the variety of pitches that Lee throws. Jeter had some success with three hits, including a single in the ninth inning that for a moment had Yankees fans thinking of another ninth inning comeback that was such a trademark of their season.
As for game two being classified as critical for New York Jeter said, “Critical they’re all critical now. As you go further in the postseason the games get tougher, so does the pitching.” And Jeter should know about the importance of winning the first game. He is playing in his seventh World Series all as a Yankee.
“We definitely don’t like this situation,” said Johnny Damon. “We can’t lose three more,” he said about the urgency now for the Yankees to take game two, If the Yankees don’t prevail Thursday evening it makes things that moiré difficult because the Series shifts to Philadelphia for the next three games.
These are the Yankees and everyone expects them to rebound with Burnett on the mound. Not that Sabathia had an off night in losing his first game this postseason, after going 3-0, his first loss as a starter in the World Series. Of his four hits in seven innings, two were the home runs hit by Utley and he struck out six,
“I was just trying to get my fastball over the plate and missed my location,” said Sabathia about the pitches thrown to Utley in the third and sixth innings, which was enough run support for Lee. As for any panic after a game one loss Sabathia said, “This is a pretty good team and veteran clubhouse. We know what is at stake.”
Rodriguez had a horrible World Series debut and made no excuses. Lee was that good. “When a guy comes out like that, you tip your hat and go on,” he said about Lee. “He made some pretty good pitches.” Philadelphia got the first draw, their first win over the Yankees in World Series play having been swept by the Bronx Bombers in their previous World Series meeting back in 1950.
And drama in game two with Pedro Martinez on the mound for the Phillies and hearing the taunts of Yankee fans at the new stadium. “It’s all just being fans,” said Martinez Wednesday about his return to the Bronx and pitching again in New York, “I have all the respect in the world for the way they enjoy being fans,” he said.
And for the Yankees they hope they can enjoy some of Pedro’s pitches. If not the Phillies could be that much closer to becoming the first team since the Yankees to repeat as champions.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: Ring786@aol.com