Cliff Lee Is Mr. October

It is usually the hitters who become ingrained in our collective memory when it comes to post-season heroics. Cue montages of Reggie Jackson, Carlton Fisk, and Kirk Gibson. Even for the Phillies, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz have been receiving most of the kudos for the deep run into the post-season. Captain Clutch this year, however, is not Derek Jeter nor is it Ruiz and Howard; it is one Clifton Phifer Lee.

Lee threw all nine innings, struck out ten Yankees, walked none, allowed only six hits, and the Yankees managed a meager one run — a meaningless run — in the ninth. The best offense in baseball was reduced to a series of swings-and-misses and weakly-hit grounders. Cliff was on his game from the start and didn’t let up until the game was in the bag.

Chase Utley took the edge off with solo home runs in the third and sixth innings off of C.C. Sabathia, accounting for the first two runs the Phillies scored. The Phillies gave Lee breathing room in the eighth when Raul Ibanez knocked in two with a bases loaded single to right field, and again in the ninth on an RBI single by Shane Victorino and an RBI double by Ryan Howard.

Lee went the distance for the second time this post-season and has yet to leave the game prior to the eighth inning. For all the clamoring for Roy Halladay near the trading deadline, GM Ruben Amaro is looking like a modern day Nostradamus for his sly acquisition of Cliff Lee (and hey, Ben Francisco too). Clifton now has 30 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings of work and a paltry 0.5 WHIP.

The Phillies’ ace threw 121 pitches:

  • 48 four-seam fastballs, 40%
  • 14 two-seam fastballs, 12%
  • 24 sliders, 20%
  • 20 change-ups, 17%
  • 15 curve balls, 12%

How did Lee attack the Yankees’ left-handed hitters as opposed to their right-handers?

  • 36 total pitches
  • 21 four-seam fastballs, 58%
  • 2 two-seam fastballs, 6%
  • 3 change-ups, 8%
  • 3 curve balls, 8%
  • 7 sliders, 19%

  • 85 total pitches
  • 27 four-seam fastballs, 32%
  • 12 two-seam fastballs, 14%
  • 17 change-ups, 20%
  • 12 curve balls, 14%
  • 17 sliders, 20%

Of the pitches left-handed hitters made contact with, 67% (6 of 9) were on fastballs. Right-handed hitters only made contact with 31% fastballs (4 of 13). This shouldn’t be surprising because Lee, over the course of his career, has a near-even split against LH (.714 OPS) and RH (.733 OPS) batters.

The Phillies once again win Game One of a post-season series and now have just three more wins to go before hoisting another World Series trophy above their heads. Should they reach that pinnacle, they will heartily thank Mr. October, Cliff Lee.

Suggested Reading Material

Game graph above courtesy FanGraphs.

A World Series Preview with Lisa Swan

We are just about twelve hours away from game time, and if you’re a fan of either team, you probably have the jitters. That is not to be confused with the shivers, which everyone in the northeast has after all of this recent bone-chilling cold, rainy weather. You can always use more World Series preparation, right? Grab a sweater, stretch out that mouse-side index finger, and enjoy the Q&A sessions with myself and fellow Baseball Bloggers Alliance member and Yankee aficionado Lisa Swan of The Faster Times and Subway Squawkers.

Click here for my half of the questioning at The Faster Times.

. . .

1. Chase Utley is pretty well-regarded as the best player on the Phillies. Does New York realize this or is Utley underappreciated outside of Philadelphia?

Met fans know he’s great, but they love to hate him (although not as much as they hate the Flying Hawaiian!) Yankee fans haven’t really paid as much attention to Utley (although some New Yorkers do remember what Utley cursed at last year’s All-Star Game after getting booed!)

2. With the way balls fly out in right field at Yankee Stadium, do you have any apprehension about seeing Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Matt Stairs?

When the Phillies came to town in May, the balls were indeed flying out of the park. But it’s calmed down a bunch since then, for whatever reason (weather, better pitching, etc.) However, it is still a bit of a concern. After all, the Phillies hit like an AL East, not an NL East, team.

3. What are your thoughts on the match-up of former Cleveland Indians staffmates C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee? Do you see it being a close one, or is there a weakness of either that will be exploited?

Aside from wondering what Cleveland fans are thinking over seeing their guys face each other, it’s hard to say. The Yanks have a bit more familiarity with Lee than the Phillies do with Sabathia, and even beat him once this year. Plus, CC’s pitching at home. (Slight) advantage to CC.

4. Going back to underappreciation, who has been the biggest Yankees contributor who has flown under the radar?

Dave Robertson. He’s been great in the bullpen this season, with the highest strikeout rate in the league – 13.4 Ks per 9 innings. He helped the Yankees stay in the game in their two playoff walkoff wins, and got the wins in both games. And if Joe Girardi had just left him in to do his thing in Game 3, the Yanks might have won that game in
extra innings as well.

5. The Sabermetric fielding statistics have painted Ryan Howard as a better fielder this year than Mark Teixeira. In fact, they paint Tex as a below-average fielder. As someone who has watched Tex, what is your reaction to that?

I don’t want to sound all Joe Morgan here, but I find that hard to fathom. Teixeira was like Stretch Armstrong at first this year – especially in the playoffs – with the ability to make close plays and get runners out. It’s part of the reason fans haven’t gone too crazy when he hasn’t hit much this October – because he’s saved a ton of runs.

6. Sticking with defense, what has Derek Jeter done to improve his? In the off-season and in spring training, Ryan Howard worked with Sam Perlozzo on his defense, and that has been a very worthwhile investment. Did Jeter do anything different?

Yes, he did. Jeter reportedly changed his workout routine – and changed personal trainers – before this season to improve his mobility and range. And it’s really paid off – Jeter is looking better than he has in years.

7. What’s it going to take to stop John Sterling from coming up with those awful, awful isms about your Yankees? A “Tex message”? Really?

He’ll never stop – he gets too much fun out of saying them – and creating them. I’m picturing Sterling up late at night in his hotel room, pen and paper in hand, letting the muse strike him while he comes up with gems like “Robbie Cano, don’tcha know” or  “Hinske with your best shot.” I get it, though – every time a new hitter joins the
Yankees, I do a post trying to come up with what the Sterling call will be. Invariably, what he comes up with is even cornier than what I could have predicted!

8. I have often thought of Brett Myers  and A.J. Burnett as being cut from the same cloth. On some days, when they have their stuff, they are completely and utterly dominant. On other days, they are as pedestrian of Adam Eaton. Has it been at all frustrating watching Burnett, who actually had a decent year?

To use a Michael Kayism, A.J. is like the little girl with the curl. When he’s good, he’s very good, but when he’s bad, he’s horrid. I do think he’s better when Jose Molina catches him, because Molina is a calming influence. But when Burnett is really bad, even having his own personal catcher doesn’t help.

9. The Yankees have over $166 million tied up in 12 players in 2010. Do you see 2009 being a “you gotta do it” year, or do you think that if the Yankees lose the World Series, they can try again next year?

Nah, they gotta win now (and, of course, try to repeat next year.) The Yankees haven’t won a World Series since Bill Clinton was president – it’s time. Win or lose, I don’t expect the team to change must next year, though.

10. The media has raved about the atmosphere of the Yankees’ clubhouse changing with the acquisitions of Burnett and Nick Swisher. Do you think that has had any tangible effect on the Yankees, or is it just a matter of the team being made up by a bunch of really good baseball players?

I do believe in the chemistry thing. For too long this decade, the Yankees were the dynasty guys, and everybody else, and they seemed held hostage by the so-called “Yankee way,” where everybody had to be bland and boring. But this year, Joe Girardi placed a high priority not only on getting the team on the same page – he had the Yanks miss a spring training day to go play pool together – but in letting these guys be themselves, and letting new players have a say in the club.

This is a special team, with the 17 walkoff wins and the fun atmosphere. Yes, they have a huge payroll, and a ton of talent, but they also have good chemistry. And I think that’s part of the reason they’ve been so successful – because they have each others’ backs. In previous years, one bad playoff game would kill them for the rest of the series. Now, they’re able to turn the page easily, thanks to having faith in each other. They really are a likeable bunch.

. . .

Thanks to Lisa for painting a clearer picture of the Bad Guys for us. Personally, I cracked a smile when she said, “The Yankees haven’t won a World Series since Bill Clinton was president”. That smile grows even wider when you consider that the Mets haven’t won since Ronald Reagan was President. Although, I am conflicted by the fact that the Phillies  technically haven’t won since George W. Bush was President.