Boston Red Sox

McAdam at the World Series: Lee unravels in Game One

McAdam at the World Series: Lee unravels in Game One

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

SAN FRANCISCO -- The 2010 World Series was two innings old and the Texas Rangers had a 2-0 lead and Cliff Lee on the mound.

If there's a better recipe, a surer formula for a postseason victory, it wasn't apparent at the time.

But there are no sure things in baseball, and certainly not during October baseball. Things change. Stuff happens.

Even if you're Lee and you have toyed with some of the game's best lineups the last two postseasons. Even if the mere thought of Lee was like a security blanket for the Rangers.

But a strange thing happened to the game's best postseason pitcher Wednesday night. Lee spit back the 2-0 lead in the third, then was rocked for six runs in the fifth. He was pulled before he could get out of the inning, and the Rangers went on to lose Game One, 11-7.

It didn't exactly match the earthquake in 1989 for seismic effect, but you could almost feel the tremors, sense the Rangers' world being rocked.

Cliff Lee was human after all.

"He's been so consistent,'' drawled Texas president Nolan Ryan, "that I think everybody has a tendency to just think that when he goes out there, it's going to be the same. Everybody's going to have problems at some point in time. His command wasn't that bad; he just wasn't as sharp as he's normally been.''

This is all Lee's fault, of course. Not Wednesday night, but the impossibly high standard he had set for himself previously. His numbers were otherwordly, his composure unflappable.

Against the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees, he had made it look easy. Wednesday night was a sharp reminder that this business of turning back the game's best hitters on the game's biggest stage is, most assuredly, not easy.

"Obviously, he wasn't locating as well as he used to,'' said catcher Bengie Molina. "It happens. He wasn't as sharp. We're human.''

In Lee's case, that had been a well-kept secret this month and last October, too.

Wednesday, after all, represented Lee's first postseason loss ever. In each of his first three postseason starts this month, Lee had reached double figures in strikeouts and allowed a grand total of two runs.

The Giants matched that in the third inning alone. And then their fun really started.

As Lee's pitch count soared, the Giants were uncommonly patient. Known for their aggressiveness, they worked counts, wasted pitches and refused to cower.

This wasn't the Lee they had heard about.

"Guys were able to step up and have good at-bats,'' said former Red Sox infielder Freddy Sanchez, "and tried to work the pitch count and put the ball in play.''

And the hits weren't cheap. Sanchez lashed a double to left to score the first run. Andres Torres and Sanchez (again) doubled in the fifth. Cody Ross and Aubrey Huff served solid line drives into center as the inning wore on and Lee unraveled.

The same guy who last week looked as though he could carve the plate up with the precision of a surgeon, was suddenly offering a steady diet of inviting meatballs. The Giants may not have the most fearsome lineup, but they didn't need an invitation to whack what Lee was offering them.

"I threw a ton of pitches,'' recounted Lee, "and I threw a lot of pitches over the heart of the plate. You can't do that at this level. I made some good pitches, too. But for the most part, I was erratic and trying to find it. And for whatever reason, I couldn't be consistent locating pitches.''

Perhaps such a stumble was inevitable. Nobody could maintain that level of dominance forever.

The danger for the Rangers, of course, is that he'd had been so good in these instances that a loss by Lee could be devastating to their confidence. If we can't beat them with Lee, they might be asking themselves, how are we going to beat them?

"I don't think so,'' said Ryan, shooting down that theory. "We went out and scored seven runs and made, what, four errors? It's not too often that you make four errors and win a ballgame.''

Then again, it's not too often that your unbeatable, nearly unhittable pitcher is chased in the fifth inning. It's not often that Lee allows five doubles in a single start (he hadn't since joining the Rangers).

But things change. Stuff happens.

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

Drellich: Pomeranz, league's second-best lefty, knows how to be even better

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Drellich: Pomeranz, league's second-best lefty, knows how to be even better

BOSTON — Drew Pomeranz may not actually be the No. 2 starter for the Red Sox in this year’s presumed American League Division Series. Maybe the Sox will mix in a right-hander between Pomeranz and Chris Sale.

Still, everyone knows which pitcher, in spirit, has been the second-most reliable for the Red Sox. A day after Chris Sale notched his 300th strikeout and on the final off-day of the regular season, it’s worth considering the importance of the other excellent lefty on the Sox, and how much he’s meant to a team that’s needed surprise performances because of the lineup’s drop-off.

Per FanGraphs’ wins above replacement, Pomeranz is the second-most valuable lefthanded starter among those qualified in the American League (you know who's No. 1). He's one of the 10 best starters in the AL overall.

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Pomeranz, 28, was a first-round pick seven years ago. But he didn’t exactly blossom until the last two years. He has a 3.15 ERA in 165 2/3 innings. His next start, if decent, should give him a career-high in innings after he threw 170 2/3 last year.

Pomeranz is a 16-game winner, just one win behind Sale. The value of wins and losses is known to be nil, but there’s still a picture of reliability that can be gleaned.

Is this the year Pomeranz became the pitcher he always envisioned he would be?

“I don’t know, I mean, I had a pretty dang good year last year,” Pomeranz said, referring to a 3.32 ERA between the Padres and Sox, and an All-Star selection. “I think these last two years have been kind of you know, more what I wanted to be like. But I still, I don’t think I’m done yet, you know what I mean?”

Most pro athletes say there’s always room to improve. Pomeranz, however, was able to specify what he wants. The focus is on his third and fourth pitches: his cutter and his change-up. 

“My changeup’s been really good this year,” Pomeranz said. “That’s something that still can go a lot further. And same with my cutter too. I still use it sparingly. I don’t think me just being a six-inning guy is the end of it for me either.

“You set personal goals. You want to throw more innings, cover more innings so the bullpen doesn’t have to cover those. Helps save them for right now during the year.”

Early in the year, Pomeranz wasn’t using his cutter much. He threw just nine in April, per BrooksBaseball.net. That led to talk that he wasn’t throwing the pitch to take it easy on his arm. He did start the year on the disabled list, after all, and cutters and sliders can be more stressful on the elbow and forearm.

That wasn’t the case.

“The reason I didn’t throw it in the beginning of the year was because half the times I threw it went the other way,” Pomeranz said. “It backed up. Instead of cutting, it was like sinking or running back. I mean, I pitched [in Baltimore] and gave up a home run to [Manny] Machado, we were trying to throw one in and it went back. So I didn’t trust it.

“Mechanical thing. I was still trying to clean my mechanics up, and once I cleaned ‘em up and got my arm slot right, then everything started moving the way it was supposed to and then I started throwing it more.”

Pomeranz’s cutter usage, and how he developed the pitch heading into 2016, has been well documented.

The change-up is more of an X-factor. He threw five in each of his last two starts, per Brooks, and it’s a pitch he wants to use more.

“It’s been good,” Pomeranz said. “I think I could throw it a lot more and a lot more effectively, and ... tweaking of pitch selection probably could help me get into some of those later innings too.”

Well, then why not just throw the change more often? Easier said than done when you’re talking about your fourth pitch in a key moment.

“I throw a few a game,” Pomeranz said. “Sometimes you feel like you don’t want too throw it in situations where you get beat with your third or fourth best pitch. I mean it’s felt — every time I’ve thrown it it’s been consistent. It’s just a matter of, it’s something me and Vazqy [Christian Vazquez] talk about, too." 

(When you hear these kind of issues, which most pitchers deal with, it makes you appreciate Sale’s ability to throw any pitch at any time even more.)

Speaking on Wednesday, the day after Pomeranz’s most recent outing, Sox pitching coach Carl Willis said he thinks the change-up’s already starting to have a greater presence.

“He’s kind of always had a changeup, and he hadn’t had any trust or conviction in that pitch,” Willis said. “I was really excited last night that he used the changeup more. He threw it. He doubled up with it on occasion. Something that’s not in the scouting report.

"It’s his fourth pitch and he seldom threw it in a game and he’s in a situation where, OK, the change-up’s the right pitch, but location of whatever I throw is going to outweigh [selection]. Now he’s starting to gain that confidence [that he can locate it]. 

“I think that’s going to make him an extremely better pitcher. I thought it was a huge factor in his outing last night. Because he didn’t have his best velocity. He really did a good job of changing speeds with the changeup, and obviously with the curveball and being able to give different shapes of the pitches.”

The Sox already have the best left-hander in the AL, if not anywhere. The AL's second-best southpaw happens to pitch on the same team, and has tangible plans to be even better.

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Werner criticizes Price for Eck incident; says Sox' relationship with Yanks is 'frosty'

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Werner criticizes Price for Eck incident; says Sox' relationship with Yanks is 'frosty'

BOSTON — Red Sox chairman Tom Werner doesn’t seem to be the biggest fan of the the Yankees, MLB disciplinarian Joe Torre, and players who can’t take criticism from broadcasters.

In a spot Thursday with WEEI, Werner made clear David Price’s handling of Dennis Eckersley was unprofessional.

“Boston is a tough place to play,” Werner said on WEEI’s Ordway, Merlonia and Fauria. “Some players thrive here, and some players don’t. Get a thicker skin. My feeling is, let the broadcasts be honest, be personable, informative, and get over it if you think a certain announcer took a shot at you.”

“I thought there was a way of handling that. It wasn’t handled appropriately. If I’ve got a problem with Lou [Merloni], and I hear something he says on the radio, I’ll say to Lou, ‘That wasn’t fair.’ ”

Werner also called the team’s relationship with the Yankees “frosty” following the public sign-stealing saga that resulted in fines for both clubs.

“The fact is, I do think this was a minor technical violation,” Werner said. “I start with the fact that this was unfortunately raised to a level it never should have been raised to.”

Werner also insinuated he did not approve of how MLB and Torre handled the disciplining of Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez, who receieved a four-game suspension for his part in a fight against the Tigers (reduced on appeal to three games).

“Do you think Gary Sanchez got an appropriate punishment?” Werner asked.