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Giants hand Lee first postseason loss
It was the middle of the fifth inning — with the fans waving orange pom-poms as if to welcome an early Halloween — when Ron Washington came out to get baseball’s best postseason pitcher.
Aubrey Huff — who customarily passes for a No. 3 hitter in the Giants' offensively challenged lineup — had just smashed an RBI single to center. The score was now 5-2, Giants, as Cliff Lee trudged to the Texas dugout. In a matter of moments, the ace would watch as his relief, Darren O’Day, gave up a three-run homer to Juan Uribe.
At that point, his expression could be characterized as dejectedly dazed. “I expect to be successful every time I take the mound,” said Lee.
His teammates, of course, have the same expectation. But now you can’t help but wonder if the Rangers’ confidence has diminished with Wednesday's 11-7 defeat, Lee’s maiden loss in the postseason. If you’ll permit a boxing metaphor, the Giants just took Texas’ best punch.
Of all the games in this 106th World Series, this was supposed to be the easiest to figure, with Lee going against the Giants. As Rangers president Nolan Ryan put it: “He’s been so consistent in everything he’s done, you tend to think it’s always going to be like that.”
Lee had just gone through Tampa Bay and the Yankees without much trouble, and was working on a couple of potentially historic streaks. First, he hadn’t allowed a run in 16 innings, going back to Game 5 of the ALDS. More impressive, he’d won six consecutive postseason starts, second only to somebody named Bob Gibson, who won seven. Going into Wednesday night, Lee’s postseason ERA was 1.26, better than Gibson, though trailing a couple of guys named Koufax and Mathewson.
And the Giants? At some point they’d run out of luck, no? After all, the Phillies kind of beat themselves in the NLCS. A symbolically appropriate ending — Ryan Howard famously staring at a called third strike — obscured what had to be one of the weakest lineups ever to reach a World Series. San Francisco had averaged all of 3.5 runs against Philly, highly unusual for a team with championship aspirations, though not atypical for Bruce Bochy’s squad.
He doesn’t have a 30-homer guy.
He doesn’t have a 100-RBI guy.
Hell, he doesn’t even have a 90-RBI guy.
He has Aubrey Huff (26 and 86) and Cody Ross, who was unknown to all but fantasy nerds a few weeks ago.
For the record, according to STATS LLC, the last team to win a World Series without a 30-homer or 100-RBI player was the 1995 Atlanta Braves. You might recall that Atlanta had three Cy Young winners — Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, who’d win his first a season later — in their primes. And unlike these Giants, they also had legitimate offensive stars in Fred McGriff, David Justice and Chipper Jones.
Then again, who needs those guys when you have Freddy Sanchez? Or should I say the Freddy Sanchez? The guy had three doubles in his first three at-bats off Lee (who actually hit one himself in the second inning). Then there was Huff, 2 for 3 against Lee with a double. Ross had an RBI single, too. With runners in scoring position, the Giants were 5 for 10 against the Rangers’ ace. He was charged with six earned runs over 4.2 innings.
“You’ve got to give credit to their hitters,” said Lee, who, just the same, blamed himself for the defeat. “I didn’t work ahead in the count ... I was missing with my fastball. I was missing with my cutter ... I missed out over the plate... It’s not acceptable.”
I asked if it were just a matter of him not being, as he put it in pitcher-speak, “down in the zone.”
“I was up. I was down. I was in. I was out. It was everything.”
It’s worth noting that for all the talk of Lee’s substandard command, he left the game with seven strikeouts and only one walk.
“I’m not going out there to strike anybody out,” he said. “I don’t care too much about strikeouts.”
He wouldn’t tie Bob Gibson. It was Lee’s first postseason loss, and the first time in seven starts he had failed to go at least seven innings. He threw 104 pitches.
Was it his back?
Was he tired?
The postseason ace didn’t have an answer.
“I’ve been there,” said Nolan Ryan, baseball's all-time strikeout king, having just two wins in seven postseason starts. “The game’s not that easy.”
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