Lee is game's Mr October
Cliff Lee has taken over the top spot. And he is leading by so much that second place can barely be seen from where he is now.
The left-hander has become "Mr October" of the pitching world. In fact, he was Mr October of the pitching world before Monday night, but there may have been a pocket of doubters remaining in the Bronx. There cannot be any doubt left now.
Lee pitched the Texas Rangers to a Game 3 victory in the AL championship series over the New York Yankees on Monday night. The 8-0 triumph was another utterly dominant Lee performance - eight innings of shut-out ball, two hits, one walk and 13 strikeouts, tying a career high.
By any measurement, this was a major pitching event, not only because the Yankees and Rangers were battling for the series lead. Lee was matched against Andy Pettitte, who has carved out a place in baseball history with 19 post-season victories, the all-time record.
Pettitte is an admirable pitcher in every conceivable way, but the competition here suggested itself as quantity versus quality. Pettitte is 19-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 42 post-season starts. Lee is 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in eight post-season starts.
You cannot compare the bodies of post-season work. Nobody's post-season record resembles Pettitte's at this point. But you can pick a winner for the here and now, this mid-October, this series, this moment. It is Lee.
Other current contenders? Compared to Lee, they're all up and down. Yes, Roy Halladay of the Phillies opened his post-season career with a no-hitter, but then he lost his second start. Cole Hamels of the Phillies had a dominant 2008 post-season and may be on the way to another one this autumn, but in between, he had a 7.58 ERA in the 2009 post-season.
Pitching in the play-offs is pitching at its most difficult, against baseball's best line-ups. CC Sabathia is the Yankees' recognised star, and even he, in 12 post-season starts, has a 4.79 ERA.
You can look at recent history and see pitchers who performed as well as Lee in one post-season. There were Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling for Arizona in 2001. There was Josh Beckett for Boston in 2007. There was Hamels for Philadelphia in 2008.
But what you don't see is the sort of back-to-back domination Lee has produced.
Lee was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in the 2009 post-season.
He encored with a 3-0 record and a 0.75 ERA to date in the 2010 post-season. He is 3-0 against the Yankees in the past two post-seasons.
In all three of his play-off starts this October, he has struck out 10 or more men, becoming the first pitcher to do so in one post-season.
Lee's performance here could not be matched. Against the classic post-season team in a venue that typically chews up October opponents, Lee produced a game that was great even by his standards.
But the thing about this start against the Yankees was that Lee had a very similar result against them, in his last start against them on September 12 pitching eight innings while giving up two hits.
The Yankees made even less contact in this game, but taken together, these two results indicate that Lee is at a level at which even the best offence cannot reach him.
Look at it this way; it is October and your team desperately needs to win a post-season game. Pick a pitcher. That's right - Cliff Lee.
Published: October 20, 2010 04:00 AM