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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hey, New York, Who's Your Daddy?

As I sat, familiarly flabbergasted, amidst a bar full of equally frustrated strangers, and watched the Yankees deliver a barrage of singles, piling up runs at a tortuously slow pace, as Ron Washington tried pitcher after pitcher in an effort to tourniquet the ridiculous trickle of scoring, I recognized that, despite the fact that C. J. Wilson had absolutely stymied the most infamous lineup in baseball for seven innings and the Rangers had chased New York's only dominant pitcher in four innings, the series might well be over by the end of Game One.  Even if you attempt to adhere to that Curt Schilling credo, that Mystique and Aura are just dancers at a nightclub, you cannot deny that the Yankees have a habit of getting in their opponents heads.  For ages, of course, it was that way with the Red Sox (if you haven't already, hurry over to iTunes and watch ESPN's Four Days In October documentary).  More recently, it's been that way with the Twins.  And, now, I feared, they had the Rangers on their heels, ever waiting for New York to again assert their superiority by doing something truly improbable (like scoring five runs in an inning, off one of the best bullpens in baseball, without hitting an homer, indeed, with the help of only one extra-base hit).  If the Yankees had successfully quelled the Rangers aggressive, can-do spirit, this series would be over in five.

But that didn't happen.

Instead, Texas walked away from the game with the kind of impression which would make any sabermetrician proud: "They got lucky."  In baseball, no matter how good you are, the stringing together of seven consecutive baserunners is, to a significant degree, a matter of luck.  Brett Gardner reached on a grounder which would be an out, even with his speed, at least 80% of the time.  Jeter and A-Rod both hit the ball hard, but again, on the ground, and found that narrow, dangerous gap just inside the third base line.  Thames hit was a broken-bat dying quail.  If that bat stays whole, it's probably a line drive right at the left-fielder.  Certainly, there's nothing wrong with these kinds of hits and the Yankees made their luck possible by working counts and, in most cases, making fairly solid contact, but even they would tell you, they got some fortuitous breaks.  That night, when their inclination must've been to throw in the towel and, in the words of Pedro Martinez, call the Yankees their Daddy, Ron Washington and the Rangers instead observed that if they played hundred more games in which they entered the eighth with a five run lead, they'd probably win 95 of them.

On the bright side, they had hammered the Yankees only top-flight starting pitcher, C. C. Sabathia, and the Yankees had struggled against their second-best southpaw, C. J. Wilson.  When Colby Lewis went to work on the Yankees the next afternoon and his teammates again battered the New York starter, this time Phil Hughes, you could see several Rangers (most noticeably, Elvis Andrus) smirking in the seventh and eighth innings, as if to say, "If you're so good, why don't do it again?"  Facing several of the same pitchers they had chased less than 24 hours earlier, New York managed just one hit off the Rangers bullpen Sunday.  On Monday night, they got another taste of Rangers best southpaw, Cliff Lee, who, in the last two postseasons, has thusfar struck out 26 Yankees while allowing only 19 baserunners, making it clear that the only solution New York has for former Cleveland Indians lefties is to pay them $150 Million.

Certainly, the ALCS is far from over, but thankfully, the Rangers were immune to the massive momentum shift that could've followed their heartbreaking loss in Game One.  At this point, based on the pitching performances of the first three games and the fact that, setting aside that incredible eighth, the Yankees have scored only three runs to the Rangers twenty, one cannot see how the Yankees are favored in any of the next four games.  Tommy Hunter v. A. J. Burnett has the potential to be the first slugfest of the 2010 playoffs, which could go either way.  Sabathia will likely bounce back in Game Five, on normal rest, but there's no reason to believe New York's lineup will have any better answer for C. J. Wilson.  Same can be said for Colby Lewis in Game Six.  Most importantly, perhaps, Texas needs only one of the next three to assure that Cliff Lee gets back to the mound for Game Seven.

If anybody has gotten inside anybody else's head this postseason, it's Cliff Lee.  In fact, he's been inside the Yankees heads since last October.  In the clubhouse and on New York talk radio, Cliff Lee is discussed in hushed tones, like a marauding gunslinger.  That's why Brian Cashman pursued him with such fervor at the trade deadline, as much to keep him off another playoff team as to put him on theirs.  As he hung golden sombreros on Derek Jeter and Marcus Thames Monday night (and added a pair apiece for Posada, Granderson, and Teixeira), you could see by their expressions that this was a recurring nightmare come true.

If the ALCS goes to Game Seven, Rangers fans have every right to chant "Who's Your Daddy?" throughout the top half of every inning.  

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