McAdam at the ALCS: Lee solidifying his place in history

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McAdam at the ALCS: Lee solidifying his place in history

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

NEW YORK -- Already, just halfway throgh the playoff calendar, the 2010 postseason has become, like the regular season which preceded it, dominated by pitching.

There was a no-hitter by Roy Halladay and a dynamic playoff debut by Tim Lincecum a day later.

But great as those performances were, they were merely the opening act for the 2010 postseason headliner. Cliff Lee isn't competing with them; he's up against history.

Rare is the modern athlete who manages to somehow top expectations in an era of 247 hyperbole, but Lee cleared that bar with ease in Game Three of the ALCS with his eight shutout innings, 13 strikeouts and only one walk.

Box score Play by play

The best this season? Wrong question.

"He's the most consistent pitcher I've ever seen,'' marveled Texas club president Nolan Ryan after his Rangers shut out the New York Yankees 8-0. "He's walked, what, one guy in 24 innings? He's unbelievable.''

Asked if Lee's performance the last two postseasons put him in the conversation with all-time October greats like Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, Ryan didn't hesitate.

"I think very much so,'' said Ryan. "He's as consistent as anyone who's ever pitched postseason. It's a carryover from last year and he's doing it again this year. I don't know anybody you really can compare him to as far as his command and the kind of games he's consistently pitched.''

You'll get no argument from the Yankees, who managed to get four balls out of the infield -- two flyouts and two singles -- in eight innings. It got to the point that Yankee fans were standing up and applauding Nick Swisher for pushing an at-bat against Lee to 10 pitches. Of course, Swisher swung and missed at the 11th pitch.

Talk about small victories.

In three playoff starts this month, Lee has now given up two runs in 24 innings while allowing 13 hits. But the key might be his outrageous strikeout-to-walk ratio, which sits at 34-to-1.

"And it's not just that he strikes so many people out and doesn't walk anybody,'' said teammate C.J. Wilson, "but he gets everybody out, too. It's one thing to throw strikes and throw the ball down the middle. But he actually gets outs, too. You put all that together and it's like, wow. It's like he's got turbo boost in a video game.''

Lee has won six straight postseason starts dating back to the NLDS last year, one shy of Gibson's mark, which ran from 1964 to 1968. His 7-0 career postseason record is tied for second-best all-time without a loss. Only Orlando Hernandez -- coincidentally, on hand Monday night at the Stadium -- had more wins (eight) before suffering his first postseason loss. And Lee is the first pitcher in history to post three straight double-figure strikeout games in the same postseason.

Of the 31 games in postseason history in which a pitcher has struck out at least 10 and walked one or fewer, Lee has pitched five of them.

Not just great in the moment. Historically great.

There's a feeling of inevitability when Lee takes the mound in a postseason game, and according to Wilson, you can see it in the eyes of even the best hitters in the game.

"He's got this reputation that when hitters dig in, it looks like they're 0-and-1 already,'' said Wilson. "They're like, 'I just know he's going to throw a first-pitch strike.' Mentally it just puts them behind the eight-ball.''

Because the Rangers now lead 2-to-1 -- and are a one-inning bullpen meltdown in Game One from being on the verge of sweeping the Yankees -- and Lee would pitch a deciding Game Seven Saturday in Texas, there's a feeling that the Yanks actually need to win the next three in a row, to take Lee out of the equation.

There's an aura of invincibility that now surrounds Lee, but the pitcher himself finds such talk embarrassing.

"Just because I had a good game this time and the previous time,'' warned Lee, "doesn't mean it's going to happen again.''

Speaking of inevitability, there's the side matter of Lee's asking price escalating with every strikeout, every shutout inning. Lee might yet pitch the Rangers to the title, and, even with the team's new 3 billion TV deal, he may be too costly to re-sign.

How much will he cost, someone wondered?

"You can go next door and ask them,'' drawled Ryan, tilting his head toward the New York clubhouse with a smile. "I think he's got their attention.''

The Yankees and everyone else's, too.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Hernandez has chance at Red Sox opening day roster after Rutledge injury

Hernandez has chance at Red Sox opening day roster after Rutledge injury

Infielder Marco Hernandez may make the Red Sox roster after all.

Fellow infielder Josh Rutledge, the presumptive 25th man on the Red Sox, suffered a left hamstring strain on Tuesday against the Pirates, according to reporters in Florida, including Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald.

If Rutledge isn’t ready for opening day, Hernandez, a left-handed hitter, may have his crack. 

The question is whether the Sox would be comfortable without a right-handed bat to complement both Pablo Sandoval and Mitch Moreland on the corners. Rutledge was going to give the Sox that right-handed look they sought. (When Hanley Ramirez's shoulder will be healthy enough to play first base is unclear, but isn't expected to be too long.)

Neither Rutledge nor Hernandez has played first base in the majors or minors.

A big-league rookie last year, Hernandez has done decently against lefties at the upper levels of the minors, hitting .328 vs. them at Triple-A Pawtucket last season in 67 at-bats. He hit .315 in 54 at-bats at Pawtucket, with a .318 average against them that season in 88 at-bats for Double-A Portland.

Rutledge is a Rule 5 draft pick who has to remain on the major league 25-man roster the whole season or the Sox risk losing him. Placement on the disabled list doesn’t affect his status unless he’s on the disabled list for a very lengthy time.

An alternative option is Steve Selsky, who has first-base experience, but he's already been optioned.

Farrell defends Sox' shoulder program, but he first raised the issue

Farrell defends Sox' shoulder program, but he first raised the issue

Red Sox manager John Farrell didn’t scream “fake news" on Tuesday,  but he might as well have.

The only problem is he seems to be forgetting his own words, and his reliever’s.

Righty Tyler Thornburg is starting his Red Sox career on the disabled list because of a shoulder impingement. 

Another Dave Dombrowski pitching acquisition, another trip to the disabled list. Ho hum.

But the reason Thornburg is hurt, Farrell said, has nothing to do with the Red Sox’ shoulder program -- the same program Farrell referenced when talking about Thornburg earlier this month.

“There’s been a lot written targeting our shoulder program here,” Farrell told reporters on Tuesday, including the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton. “I would discount that completely. He came into camp, he was throwing the ball extremely well, makes two appearances. They were two lengthy innings in which inflammation flared up to the point of shutting him down. But in the early work in spring training, he was throwing the ball outstanding. So to suggest that his situation or his symptoms are now the result of our shoulder program, that’s false.”

Let’s go back to March 10, when Farrell was asked in his usual pregame session with reporters about Thornburg’s status.

"He is throwing long-toss out to 120 feet today," Farrell said that day. “He’s also been going through a strength and conditioning phase, arm-wise. What we encounter with guys coming from other organizations, and whether it's Rick [Porcello], David [Price], guys that come in, and they go through our shoulder maintenance program, there's a period of adaptation they go through, and Tyler’s going through that right now. We're also going to get him on the mound and get some fundamental work with his delivery and just timing, and that's soon to come in the coming days. Right now it's long toss out to 120 feet.”

So Farrell volunteered, after Thornburg was taken out of game action, that the shoulder program appeared involved. 

Maybe that turned out not to be the case. But Farrell's the one who put this idea out there.

On March 11, Farrell was asked to elaborate about other pitchers who needed adjusting to how the Red Sox do their shoulder program.

“Rick Porcello is an example of that. Joe Kelly,” Farrell said. “And that's not to say that our program is the end-all, be-all, or the model for which everyone should be compared. That's just to say that what we do here might be a little more in-depth based on a conversation with the pitchers, that what they've experienced and what we ask them to do here. And large in part, it's with manual resistance movements on the training table. These are things that are not maybe administered elsewhere, so the body goes through some adaptation to get to that point. 

“So, in other words, a pitcher that might come in here previously, he pitched, he’s got recovery time and he goes and pitches again. There's a lot of work and exercise in between the outings that they may feel a little fatigued early on. But once they get those patterns, and that consistent work, the body adapts to it and their recovery times become much shorter. And it's one of the reasons we've had so much success keeping pitchers healthy and on the field.”

Except that Kelly has had a shoulder impingement in his time with the Red Sox, last April, and so too now does Thornburg.

In quotes that appeared in a March 12 story, Thornburg himself told the Herald’s Michael Silverman that he didn’t understand the Red Sox throwing program.

Thornburg said that after the December trade, he was sent a list of exercises from the training staff. The message he did not receive was that all of the exercises were to be performed daily.

“I kind of figured that this is a list of the exercises they incorporated, I didn’t think this is what they do all in one day,” said Thornburg. “I thought, ‘here’s a list of exercises, learn them, pick five or six of them,’ because that was pretty much what we did in Milwaukee.”

But according to Farrell, Thornburg’s current state has nothing to do with the program -- the same one Farrell himself cited when directly asked about Thornburg before.

Maybe the program was the wrong thing to point to originally. But Farrell did point to it.

"This is all still in line with the shoulder fatigue, the shoudler impingement and the subsequent inflammation that he's dealing with. That’s the best I can tell you at this point," Farrell said Tuesday. "Anytime a player, and we've had a number of players come in, when you come into a new organization, there's a period where guys adapt. Could it have been different from what he's done in the past? Sure. But to say it's the root cause, that’s a little false. That’s a lot false, and very short-sighted."

Hey, he started it.

Thornburg is not to throw for a week before a re-evaluation.