Cliff Lee kept a straight face, refusing to crack a smile.
After being peppered by questions about his pitching dominance, the inevitable inquiry about his white-stained cap eventually arose. And Rangers lefthander Lee didn't miss a beat. "It definitely makes me way better," he said, deadpan, as he sat at the interview table Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. "I know that much. Without that hat, I don't know if I could do it.
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"I don't know," he continued. "It's rosin is what it is. I go to the rosin bag quite a bit. I touch my hat in the same place over and over. And it just accumulates. I couldn't pitch without it for sure."
New York sports radio airwaves have been flooded with conspiracy theories about the unknown substance on his cap, and no one was more critical, it seemed, than the Yankees' own play-by-play announcer, Michael Kay. On his 1050 ESPN Radio show Wednesday, Kay said: "I would think that's illegal. If I'm Joe Girardi, I'm telling the umpires he has got to wear another hat."
Well, it turns out the Yankees' manager doesn't believe the Rangers' Game 3 starter is doctoring the ball at all. "He has rosin that he goes from his hat - from his hand to his cap," Girardi said. "Pitchers have it on their leg because sometimes they put the rosin and wipe it on their legs. It's rosin. It's available to everybody . . . I haven't seen it to be a problem."
Said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman: "To be honest, it's the first I've heard about it. If you see David Robertson, he's got rosin all over the side of his leg. And it leaves a whole big whiter spot on his leg."
Rosin stains or not, Lee's postseason numbers are as much a product of his deceptive arsenal of pitches as they are his determination to outshine his own expectations.
"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," said Lee, who is 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA and 55 strikeouts in seven postseason starts. As a member of the Phillies, he defeated the Yankees in Games 1 and 5 of last year's World Series.
The Yankees acknowledge they'll have their hands full with Lee, but they're looking forward to the fight.
"I'm gonna battle him," Marcus Thames said. "I'm not going to go out there and see that he's out there and dig a hole. I'll be ready to play."
Lee isn't backing down, either. "I'm not going to get intimidated," he said. "I know they're a very good team, the defending World Series champions. I know it's a team that if you miss out of the plate and find yourself in 2-0, 1-2 [counts], bad things are going to happen . . . I'm going to try to locate and keep the ball down and away, down and in, up and in, out of the strike zone here and there to keep them honest, and just try to keep them off balance."