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Inevitable Game 7 showdown is coming
Doesn’t it feel like the ALCS is about to unleash Game 7 on America on Saturday night? The monster otherwise known as Cliff Lee is straining at the laboratory door, and what transpired between the Yankees and Rangers on Wednesday only further loosened the hinges.
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We’re talking about the Bombers’ 7-2 trouncing of Texas in Game 5, which not only forced everyone back on a plane to Arlington, but re-wrote much of the early series calculus. The Bombers finally started hitting, CC Sabathia threw satisfactorily, if not brilliantly, and Joe Girardi made it through nine innings without toppling his own chess pieces.
When it was all over, when the Yankees had finished loading their equipment onto the waiting trucks to the airport, they sounded as if the advantage and momentum was theirs. Girardi said he was “confident” about the outcome of the budding comeback.
Surprisingly, Rangers manager Ron Washington didn’t seem to dispute that.
“You’re never comfortable because you never know what’s going to happen from day to day,” he said afterward. “We’ll be ready to go on Friday and go out and give it our best. At the end of the nine just hope we have more runs than they have.”
There was no hint from Washington that he, not Girardi, was standing only nine innings from the World Series. Instead of being ready to leap forward, the manager and the Rangers seemed to be hunkering down, bracing for the coming onslaught.
That’s another way of saying the Yankees are hitting again, having resurrected from their .198 average through the first four games and the inexplicable .090 mark with runners in scoring position.
Was it admiration or concern when Washington said, “that’s a very good team out there.” No one seemed sure, after he watched C.J. Wilson get lit up for six runs (five earned) in just five innings.
The Rangers may, in fact , have unwittingly conceded Game 5, figuring it was just too unlikely to sweep the Yankees three straight at home in the postseason. It's just as well to take the series back to Arlington, where, in front of a loud, supportive crowd, the Yankees can be dismembered on national TV.
It’s a risk. Any manager will tell you the Bombers have the capability to become the perfect killing machine — with long at-bats and dangerous hitters who do their best work at 2-0 and 3-1. Wilson found out the hard way in the second inning when he missed the strike zone with 16 of the 23 pitches he threw. Any hope the Rangers had of finishing out the ALCS in New York went up in smoke when Wilson walked two, allowed two hits and overthrew Matt Treanor when Jorge Posada was trying to score from third.
It was just one run, but the Stadium crowd, still in shock it seemed from the knockout punches the Rangers had administered in Games 3 and 4, suddenly catalyzed.
The Yankees spent the rest of the afternoon regaining their self-respect, and avoiding the humiliation of having their season end in front of their own ticketholders.
Which was fine with the Rangers, considering they hold the ultimate equalizer on Saturday. Washington was unequivocal when he said, “it’s nice to know I have Cliff Lee in Game 7.” No one dares argues the point. Lee is the Terminator at 60 feet, six inches. He doesn’t think, he’s programmed. He doesn’t emote, he processes.
Although Lee has made sure to say all the right things in support of his teammates, hoping the Rangers finish off the Yankees as quickly as possible, it’s easy to cut through the thin layer of clichés. Lee, of course, is dying for a chance to go one-on-one with Andy Pettitte again.
That’s his warrior ethos at work: Lee is all about those end-of-the-world moments. The rest — warming up, throwing on the side, talking to the press — is just static.
The Yankees, no dummies, have an intellectual grasp of the long odds they face, and that’s even before reaching Lee on Saturday. No Bomber team since 1958 has pulled itself together in the postseason after being down 3-1.
Game 6 will be its own challenge, considering Phil Hughes is coming off a terrible performance in Arlington. His Game 2 outing was so uncharacteristically bad — four innings, 10 hits, seven runs — the Yankees can only assume it was an aberration from which the 24-year-old right-hander has learned.
If not, then there’s no point in obsessing over another Lee-Pettitte showdown. The Rangers will force Hughes into more mistakes up in the strike zone and never let this series play out to its conclusion.
Somehow, though, it feels otherwise. The Rangers started a fire on Wednesday that only Lee can extinguish, which is the way it was supposed to be all along. And that’s when we’ll finally put all the data in the blender for the last time.
The Yankees will feature the more experienced roster, the more evolved winning pedigree and their world championship against the hungrier, more athletic and ultimately more dangerous Rangers.
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