Davidoff: Rangers' Lee 500-pound gorilla in Game 3
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In spring training of 2005, I went to Mike Mussina's locker and asked him about the excellent career numbers he had against Big Papi. Mussina - as he was prone to do, anyway - looked at me as if I had suddenly began speaking in a Roger Clemens Texas twang.
"I don't think those are recent numbers," Mussina said.
Fast forward to yesterday in the Yankees' clubhouse, and a similar vibe emerged. Some of the Yankees' regulars have had success against Cliff Lee, the Rangers' super-ace who will start Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
But that doesn't mean they want to face this version of Lee.
"When you get a chance to see Cliff Lee pitch before your first game, and then have a couple of days of not facing him, it's always good," Mark Teixeira said, "because he's been dominant in his postseason career."
Teixeira, in regular-season play against Lee, has a .394 on-base percentage and .600 slugging percentage in 33 plate appearances. Nick Swisher has a .419 OBP and .640 SLG in 29 plate appearances. Derek Jeter owns a .488 OBP and .583 SLG in 41 plate appearances.
Nevertheless, sometimes the smaller, more recent sample size takes priority. Especially when a pitcher has transformed dramatically as Lee has over the last three seasons.
Let's just look at how Lee has done against the Yankees in these last two seasons, when Swisher and Teixeira joined Jeter's Yankees. The 32-year-old lefty has faced the Yankees seven times while wearing four different uniforms (Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle and Texas). He is 5-1 with a 2.98 ERA, with 40 strikeouts and 12 walks in 511/3 innings.
In that span, Teixeira is 3-for-21, and Swisher is 4-for-15. Jeter is 11-for-24 with three walks, an impressive showing against someone whom the Yankees have grown to respect as much as Phillies ace (and former Toronto tormentor) Roy Halladay.
The Yankees' captain unfortunately didn't make himself accessible to the media for the second straight day Wednesday, although something tells me he wouldn't have disclosed much, anyway.
The team's public-relations strategy called for minimizing discussion on Lee, to make sure their focus didn't drift away from Texas' Game 1 starter C.J. Wilson and Game 2's Colby Lewis. Said Swisher: "We ain't gonna face him for the first two or three games, so we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Of course, the Lee Bridge will hang over the Yankees for the entire series. They'll work hard to eliminate the Rangers by Game 6, to ensure they don't face Lee in a do-or-die Game 7. It brings to mind the 1986 Mets working 16 magnificent innings to eliminate the Astros in National League Championship Series Game 6, knowing that Mike Scott lurked in Game 7.
And if this doesn't provide enough intrigue for you, then there's the "If you can't beat him, buy him" notion surrounding Lee. The Yankees want to sign the impending free agent Lee this winter, and Lee knows it, and the Yankees know that Lee knows it. The Rangers know all of this and, armed with an immense, new television contract, appear to want to challenge the Yankees on Lee after the World Series.
"I don't think he ever intimidates us," Teixeira said. "But the fact of the matter is, if Cliff Lee's on, you better scratch and claw."
They've got track records. They've also got common sense, though. Right now, the best way to beat Cliff Lee is to beat his teammates.