Rangers-Yankees Preview

Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte. The postseason ace against that ol’
October pro.

With the best-of-seven AL championship series tied at one
apiece, the scene shifts to Yankee Stadium for Game 3 on Monday
night, when a pair of pressure-proven pitchers will be back in the
spotlight.

Lee’s left arm has been baseball’s most dominant force in the
past two postseasons, carrying him to a 6-0 mark with a 1.44 ERA
and three complete games in seven starts.

He’ll be on the mound for the Texas Rangers against Pettitte,
who has an outstanding October resume of his own. The longtime
Yankees lefty is going for his 20th postseason win.

”Obviously, it’s a great matchup,” New York manager Joe
Girardi said Sunday, when the Yankees and Rangers worked out under
blue skies in the Bronx. ”I think people are looking forward to
tomorrow.”

Coming off the first home playoff win in the franchise’s
50-season history, the Rangers are back on the road – where they’re
unbeaten in these playoffs. Texas won all three first-round games
at AL East champion Tampa Bay, including a pair of masterpieces by
Lee.

Next, he’ll try to join Orlando Hernandez and Orel Hershiser as
the only pitchers to win their first seven postseason decisions.
Hernandez opened 8-0 for the Yankees from 1998-2000, while
Hershiser went 7-0 with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland
Indians from 1985-95.

”I’ve got high expectations for myself. Regardless of what’s
happened in the past or what other people expect of me, I expect as
much out of myself or more than anybody is going to expect of me,”
Lee said. ”So I don’t look at it any different than I would any
other game. I expect to be successful and that’s the game tomorrow
and every time I take the mound.”

Because of his overwhelming brilliance, most of the buzz leading
up to this matchup has revolved around Lee, nearly acquired by the
Yankees before Seattle traded him to Texas on July 9.

That’s just fine with the 38-year-old Pettitte, who is 5-0 with
a 2.88 ERA in his last nine postseason starts and always seems to
come through when New York needs him most.

After missing two months with a groin injury and making only
three starts in September, he pitched seven solid innings to beat
Minnesota in Game 2 of the division series.

”I feel like there’s not a whole lot of attention that I get
anyways. It’s been like that kind of my whole career. I guess I can
say I’m used to that. It’s always maybe the other guy that’s going
to get that. That’s totally fine with me,” Pettitte said. ”I’m
kind of uncomfortable with a whole lot of attention. I want to go
out and do my job, give us a chance to win that ballgame.”

The high-scoring Yankees, with baseball’s top offense this
season, have been as overmatched by Lee as everyone else lately.
They like to work pitchers and grind out at-bats, but their patient
approach can be countered by Lee because he keeps everything on or
around the plate.

”If he’s coming out and throwing a lot of strikes, we can’t be
taking,” Mark Teixeira said.

In his last five starts in the Bronx, Lee is 5-0 with a 1.67 ERA
and two complete games, including a six-hitter in the World Series
opener for the Phillies last year when he struck out 10 and gave up
only an unearned run.

In fact, he won both his World Series starts for Philadelphia.
New York took the other four games.

”Cliff can’t do it by himself,” Rangers manager Ron Washington
said. ”He’s only human. If anything goes wrong, he’s going against
a ballclub that can make you pay.”

Lee struggled in August, then had an injection in his aching
back and took almost two weeks off before returning to face the
Yankees at home on Sept. 12. He allowed two hits in eight-plus
innings of a 4-1 win.

In the postseason, he’s been nearly perfect, piling up 54
strikeouts while walking only six in 56 1-3 innings. He struck out
21 and did not walk a batter in two starts spanning 16 innings
against the Rays.

”I would like to throw a full season without walking anyone. I
know that’s probably unrealistic, but if you make every single team
you face swing their way around the bases, it’s going to pay off in
the end,” said Lee, who also won the regular-season opener at new
Yankee Stadium for Cleveland in April 2009.

If the Yankees have their way, this will be the last time they
see the 32-year-old Lee until they start throwing money at him this
offseason, when he can become a free agent.

But if the Rangers win Monday night, New York would need to take
the next three in a row to advance without facing him in a decisive
Game 7 at Texas.

”We’ve faced a lot of pitchers throughout the years that have
had great reputations. Reputation doesn’t win games,” Yankees
captain Derek Jeter said. ”You still have to go out there and
pitch.”

Pettitte knows that as well as anybody. At 19-9 with a 3.87 ERA,
he holds major league records for wins, starts (41) and innings
(256) in the postseason.

”He’s been through it so many times, does not become rattled,
knows how to prepare for this type of game,” Girardi said.
”Experience is an important thing when it comes to this time of
year, because you don’t expect Andy to get too hyped up. He’ll be
the same guy that he is during the regular season.”