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Yankees-Rangers Game 3, in review

Off the game, I wrote that Yankees fans might have to accept the notion that this is Cliff Lee's year, and that they'll get to enjoy Lee next year and beyond.

Driving home early this morning, I made the mistake of listening to sports talk radio. So much talk from callers about how the Rangers "want it more," and "are more hungry," and how the Yankees batters weren't desirous enough in their at-bats against Lee.

I don't quite understand how you can watch baseball for many years and draw those sorts of conclusions. How about the idea that, in Lee, we are watching someone ascend to the very top of his field right now? We have been for a couple of years now. Truly remarkable, the way he does it.

Because of some media-relations silliness that isn't worth discussing in detail here, Joe Girardi spoke about 35 minutes after the final out, rather than five minutes. That extra time seemed to serve him well. I've rarely seen Girardi present such a face of relaxation in such a tense setting.

"I don't think we are in trouble," Girardi said. "As I said, we are a good club, and we are down, 2-1. We are not down 3-0 and losing in the bottom of the ninth. We are losing two games to one.

"You go out and play a good game tomorrow, you feel a lot different. The mood can change a little bit. Yeah, it's frustrating that we have lost the last two games in a row, but we have lost two games in a row before and bounced back and won a bunch of games in a row."

That's precisely the sort of message he should be sending. Coincidentally, I was chatting before the game with a Rangers official who credited Texas' manager Ron Washington for maintaining such a positive attitude after the Rangers' potentially crushing Game 1 loss. It does matter a little bit, IMO.

--I think the Yankees are doing the right thing in starting A.J. Burnett tonight. It's just too slippery a slope committing to CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte all on three days' rest, especially considering how hard Pettitte had to work last night.

If the Yankees lose tonight - and if they win, I'd think it's because their offense devours Tommy Hunter, rather than Burnett pitching a gem - then they'll have their top three guys ready to go on normal rest in what will become three straight elimination games.

Was this Pettitte's final game as a Yankee? I don't think so, because I think the Yankees will come back to win this series. But I also think that Pettitte's generally strong pitching since his return from the disabled list have increased the odds of him re-upping with the Yankees for 2011.

--When Texas closer Neftali Feliz came into pitch the ninth inning last night, with an 8-0 lead, my immediate thought was, "What on Earth is Ron Washington thinking? Why withdraw pitches from your most important reliever in a blowout?"

But then I remembered how nervous Feliz had looked in ALCS Game 2, and in the AL Division Series. And I figured Washington wanted to get Feliz some game action with a cushion.

"We figured that every time we get an opportunity to get him out there, it would benefit us," Washington explained afterward. "Because he's a young kid. You know, he's saved a lot of games for us, and he did a great job of doing that. But in the playoffs, it's a different atmosphere. It's a different animal, and I think every time we can get him out there in these type of situations, the better it's going to be when we have to put him out there in a tight ballgame.

"He begins to find out that it's the same game that he played when he was coming in saving 40 for us, that it's the same game. It's just that everything is a little bit more magnified and you have to make sure that you can control that magnification. We brought him in because we wanted him to continue to feel good about himself."

This, really, is the essence of managing. It's knowing your own people and putting them in situations where they can most help you win ballgames. Viewed solely through the context of an 8-0 game, bringing in your closer there is silly. But viewed through Feliz's shakiness, it could prove to be 20 pitches well spent.

If you look at this chart, you'll see that this marks the 21st time in 26 years that a team has a 2-1 lead in the ALCS. Fifteen of the previous 20 times, the team with a 2-1 edge proceeds to win the series. This was the case for the 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2009 Yankees. The 1998 Yankees defeated Cleveland despite trailing, 2-1; on a related note, Orlando Hernandez attended last night's game.

Of course, the chart doesn't even include the 2004 Yankees.

--But really, the Yankees' biggest problem last night was that David Robertson's uniform number had the wrong font. Well, maybe that wasn't their biggest problem, but I love that Paul Lukas' readers noticed this.

This does remind me, though: Should Girardi have brought in Mariano Rivera to pitch the ninth inning, to keep the deficit at 2-0? I didn't think so, not with how well Robertson has pitched lately. If this had been an elimination game, then sure, by all means.

--Very interesting news from Japan, as Yu Darvish apparently plans to stay there for the 2011 season. Most teams were convinced that the Nippon Ham Fighters would post Darvish this offseason. With Darvish not around as a Plan B, Lee's asking price just went up another tick.

--Self-promotion alert: I'll be on MLB Network Radio at 11:05 this morning, with Kevin Kennedy and Jim Memolo, discussing the ALCS.

--I'll check in from the Stadium tonight.

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