Red Sox

McAdam at the ALCS: Lee expected to dominate

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McAdam at the ALCS: Lee expected to dominate

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

NEW YORK -- It would seem impossible to be a bigger postseason focal point than Cliff Lee has become in the last two weeks.

While Saturday's NLCS matchup between Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum had some wondering if that constituted the greatest playoff pitching pairing in modern history, Lee seemingly doesn't need a prime opponent to command attention.

In July, before he was dealt from the Seattle Mariners to the Texas Rangers, he was the object of a half-dozen team's affections. Three months later, set to start Game Three of the ALCS Monday night against the New York Yankees, he is again the center of the baseball universe.

Lee will be opposed Monday night by Andy Pettitte, who has only won 19 postseason games, more than anyone in the history of the game. But matched against Lee, Pettitte is relegated to a bit player.

That's because Lee's performance in the postseason has been the stuff of legend the last two years. Pitching for the Phillies, he beat the Yankees in Game One of the 2009 World Series.

Two weeks ago, he opened the Rangers' ALDS against Tampa Bay with a stunning seven-inning outing in which he allowed a single run on five hits while striking out 10 and walking none.

In the decisive Game Five of the ALDS, with the Rangers seeking the first playoff series victory in the franchise's history, Lee was, if anything, even better, tossing a complete-game six-hitter and fanning 11.

In seven career postseason starts, Lee is 6-0 with 1.44 ERA. In six of those seven starts, Lee allowed either a run or no runs at all.

Lee's dominance is such that the Rangers' postseason fate seems inexorably tied to him. Unavailable for the first two games of the ALCS thanks to his start in Game Five of the ALDS, Lee can pitch just twice in this series -- Monday night, and should the series be extended, Game Seven. The thinking around the Rangers is that the club need only figure out how to win two of the other five games.

"There's been talk about Cliff Lee before he even started this series,'' noted Yankee manager Joe Girardi, "and people were talking about Game Three.''

It's as if Lee's scheduled starts are widely seen as de-facto wins for Texas.

That sort of pressure might overwhelm, but not Lee, who appeared relaxed and confident in meeting with the media.

His manager, Ron Washington, worries that too much is expected of him.

"He has good stuff and on any given night, if it's working, he can be successful,'' said Washington. "But he's human . . . I don't think he can do anything about the hype.''

While Lee has exceptional stuff, it's not his stuff which enables him to toy with All-Star lineups. Rather, it's his otherworldly command. In his seven career postseason starts, Lee boasts a 54-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Hitters often find themselves in a no-win proposition. If they take a selective approach against the lefty, they quickly find themselves behind in the count and even more at Lee's mercy than usual. If they're more aggressive, swinging at pitches early in the count, they're doing Lee a favor of another sort, since he seldom offers anything to hit in the heart of the strike zone.

"It's pick your poison with that guy,'' marveled an American League scout recently. "Either way, he's got you.''

That Lee is about to face the Yankees is more than a little ironic. In July, New York GM Brian Cashman was confident he had put together the right package of prospects -- led by highly-touted catcher Jesus Montero -- that he told several associates that Lee was Bronx-bound.

At the 11th hour, however, the Mariners withdrew, either spooked by an injury to another prospect in the deal, or won over by an improved package offered by the Rangers.

Part of Cashman's motivation to land Lee at the deadline, quite apart by the obvious allure of adding a pitcher of Lee's caliber, was the desire to not face him in the postseason.

Now, three wins shy of repeating as American League champions, that's precisely what the Yankees must do Monday night as the ALCS shifts to New York.

Moreover, unless the Yanks can fit those three wins into the next four games, they face the even more unattractive prospect of facing Lee a second time in the series -- this time, in a winner-take-all Game Seven, in Texas.

Adding further intrigue is the game-wide assumption that Lee, who has been with four teams in the last 16 months (Cleveland, Philadelphia, Seattle and Texas), will sign with the Yankees when he becomes eligible for free agency next month.

In an otherwise thin free agent class for starters, Lee is clearly the biggest prize. His postseason success is only further enhancing his market value -- to the degree that's possible.

The Yankees, thwarted in July, are not about to be denied a second time this winter, especially if the pursuit is only about dollars.

But that's for later. Monday night, Lee again has the spotlight. There's a good chance it will remain on him as long as his team remains in the postseason.

"He's Cliff Lee,'' said Washington. "He's that guy that people expect to throw amazing ballgames.''

And anything else, fair or not, will be seen as this postseason's biggest upset.

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

NLCS: Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs

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NLCS: Dodgers close in on World Series with 6-1 win over Cubs

CHICAGO -For the Los Angeles Dodgers, it's beginning to look a lot like 1988.

Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip - on a long foul ball in the first inning.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd NL pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and company to the championship 29 years ago. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. Their patient lineup is coming up big in key spots and their pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline.

Not even a return to Wrigley Field could get the Cubs back on track after a rough stay in Los Angeles. Chicago manager Joe Maddon juggled his lineup, inserting Kyle Schwarber into the No. 2 slot and benching slumping second baseman Javier Baez, but the defending World Series champions were shut down by another Dodgers starter and more stellar relief from the NL West champions.

Making their third straight appearance in the NLCS, the weary Cubs also hurt themselves with a couple of big mistakes. Carl Edwards Jr. walked Darvish on four pitches with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth, continuing a rocky postseason for the reliever and leading to a round of boos from a frustrated crowd of 41,871. A passed ball brought home another run in the eighth, and pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer hit a sacrifice fly to make it 6-1.

Darvish departed after striking out Addison Russell in the seventh, pausing for congratulations from his whole infield before heading to the dugout. The Japanese right-hander allowed six hits, including Schwarber's first-inning homer, in his second career playoff win - both coming this year. He struck out seven and walked one.

Tony Watson got two outs, Brandon Morrow worked the eighth and Kenley Jansen closed it out after Ross Stripling gave up two hits in the ninth. With manager Dave Roberts pushing all the right buttons, Los Angeles' bullpen has yet to allow a run in the series.

The Cubs finished with eight hits, one more than in the first two games combined.

The only four-game postseason sweep for the Dodgers came in the 1963 World Series against the New York Yankees. If Los Angeles can finish off Chicago on Wednesday, the Dodgers would have days off before hosting the Yankees or Houston Astros in the World Series opener.

Schwarber's sixth career postseason homer got Chicago off to a fast start, but Jon Jay struck out with two on to end the inning. The Dodgers responded with Ethier's leadoff drive in the second and Taylor's second homer of the series in the third, a mammoth shot to center off losing pitcher Kyle Hendricks.

Ethier had two hits in his first start of this year's playoffs after he missed most of the season with a herniated lumbar disk. Taylor also had two hits and is 4 for 14 for the series, helping make up for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager to a back injury.

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ALCS: Judge home run sparks New York, Yankees beat Astros 6-4 to even series

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ALCS: Judge home run sparks New York, Yankees beat Astros 6-4 to even series

NEW YORK -  With a soaring shot headed for Yankee Stadium's Monument Park, Aaron Judge got New York back on track for another memorable October.

Judge ignited a rousing rally with a home run, then doubled during a four-run eighth inning to spur the unflappable New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and tie the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Baby Bombers trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored when Gary Sanchez hit a go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

The Yankees overcame three errors and have roared back from a second straight 0-2 series deficit - they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth to cap a three-hitter. New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs and won for the 18th time in their last 21 home games.

Yankee Stadium will be rocking again when Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday. It's a rematch of the series opener, when Keuchel outdid the Japanese right-hander in a 2-1 Astros win.

An AL MVP candidate marred in a sluggish October, Judge sparked the Yankees by chasing McCullers, who baffled the Yankees with his power breaking ball.

Except for the last one.

Judge launched a curveball into the netting above center field's Monument Park for New York's second hit.

"Once we're within striking distance like that, anything can happen," Judge said.

Houston manager A.J. Hinch pulled McCullers after 81 pitches, Didi Gregorius tripled off Chris Devenski and Sanchez brought Gregorius in with a sacrifice fly.

"I thought Aaron's home run just lit a little spark," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Todd Frazier led off the eighth with a double to left, and pinch hitter Chase Headley then did the same - only after falling between first and second base, taking one step back, then heading for second and sliding in ahead of Jose Altuve's tag.

"Panic," Headley recalled. "I went from one of the best feelings of my career to one of the worst in just a matter of seconds, but fortunately it worked out."

Brett Gardner brought in Frazier on a groundout, and Judge came to bat with the bundled crowd on its feet.

He reached down to stay with a slider and drilled a double high off the left-field wall as a fan in a longsleeve yellow shirt reached down and touched the ball. Gardner came home with the tying run, and Gregorius grounded a single just beyond shortstop Carlos Correa's reach to put runners at the corner. Sanchez, who had been 0 for 13 in the series, scored them both with a slicing drive that skipped to the wall in right-center.

Houston had not lost consecutive games since Sept. 8-10 at Oakland and the major leagues' best road record during the regular season. The Astros had just three hits and are hitting .153 in the series.

Yankees starter Sonny Gray pitched one-hit ball through five innings but again had no run support. His teammates have yet to score for him in four career postseason starts while he's still on the mound, including twice with New York this year.

Houston took a 3-0 lead in the sixth after George Springer walked leading off, and Josh Reddick reached on catcher's interference by Austin Romine - inserted into lineup for his defense.

Robertson walked Altuve and struck out Carlos Correa before Yuri Gurriel lined a three-run double past Frazier and all the way to the wall. Gurriel got hung up between second and third as Altuve scored, and he was tagged out by Judge to end a rundown.

Houston added a fourth run when second baseman Starlin Castro misplayed Brian McCann's grounder in the seventh, allowing Marwin Gonzalez to score from second. It was Castro's second error of the game.

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