10/14/2004 1:42 AM ET
Lieber dominates Sox in Game 2
Hurler in command in seven-plus-inning gem
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
|Jon Lieber allowed a run on three hits and struck out three in seven-plus innings on Wednesday. (Kathy Willens/AP)
NEW YORK -- Sorry to ruin any beliefs you diehards may hold, but it appears true Yankees are made, after all, not born.
Take Jon Lieber. He did not develop with the heritage in his blood. On the contrary, as a former Chicago Cub, he was weaned on sorrowful experiences.
But put him on the mound, under the October spotlight, and he turns into the reincarnation of every Yankees great who pitched his best as the days got shorter.
Lieber dominated the Boston Red Sox for seven innings of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium, setting up a 3-1 victory that left his team in clear command.
Which is what Lieber had, holding the heavy-handed Red Sox to three hits and a run. Of his 82 pitches, only 25 were out of the strike zone.
"I moved the ball around, and after I got ahead (in the count) I hit spots," said the soft-spoken 34-year-old. "I hoped they'd get themselves out early in the count."
Many obliged. Lieber had only three strikeouts, along with one walk.
"He knows what to do," said catcher Jorge Posada, who has a knack for always simplifying things. "He was unbelievable. He seems to be getting stronger. He was fun to catch.
"He was able to put the ball where he wanted to. Those guys are very aggressive, and he used that to his advantage."
It qualified as a coming-out event for Lieber, 26 months after reconstructive elbow surgery. Although a former 20-game winner ('01 Cubs), he probably became the focus of more attention Wednesday night than all his other big league nights combined.
Curt Schilling, the Boston right-hander who certainly couldn't take advantage of the opportunity, had said of playoffs in Yankee Stadium:
"You can make more of a name for yourself here in one inning, in one game, on one pitch, than anywhere else."
The name's Lieber, "i" before "e."
"It just seemed like, once he settled in, he just got locked in," said manager Joe Torre. "He's going to throw a lot of strikes. Even when we took him out, to have 80-some pitches was incredible."
When Lieber was excused, following Trot Nixon's leadoff single in the eighth, his walk down the slope of the mound triggered a huge roar from the belly of the 56,136 fans.
But this was old hat in Yankee Stadium. No. 22 running off the mound, serenaded by the grateful roars of a sellout crowd.
Yesteryear, No. 22 clothed Roger Clemens. Now it belongs to Lieber, who goes about it so differently, but winds up at the same place. With a huge beardown, and staredown, performance at the most glaring time.
"It was a great feeling," Lieber said of the crowd's farewell. "They've been tremendous all year, and did it again tonight."
It was a merciless, impatient crowd. There were the obligatory echoes of Pedro Martinez's "daddy" comment. And the 56,136 booed their displeasure at every interruption, such as when catcher Jason Varitek conferred with his pitcher, and stirred restlessly every time Lieber threw a ball.
Which certainly was not often.
"It seems like he's 0-1 or 0-2 on everybody," said Alex Rodriguez. "He did a nice job of cutting the ball in on lefties, and he used his breaking ball to get some strikeouts."
And he was in a hurry to do it all. Fielders love playing behind Lieber, who pitches like someone with a plane to catch.
"He's got good stuff, first and foremost. He throws a lot of strikes and works quick," Derek Jeter said. "That's a tough lineup, and he was able to shut them down."
And Mike Mussina dropped your jaw in Tuesday's Game 1? His 6 1/3 perfect innings seemed a sure thing to stand up as the postseason's pitching gem.
It took Lieber less than 24 hours to top it. The seventh inning caved in on Mussina, who was unable to finish it.
In only two innings did Lieber have to face more than the required three men. In the second, David Ortiz drew a leadoff walk and stayed on first as the next three batters went down. Likewise, in the third, Orlando Cabrera led off with a single but was stranded.
The next time Lieber gave up a hit, to Ortiz with one out in the seventh -- after having retired 13 straight batters -- he induced Kevin Millar to ground into a double play.
"When I go out there for each start, it's no secret what I'm trying to accomplish, and that's throw strikes," Lieber said. "That lineup is going to be selective, and also aggressive."
And, now, also in deep trouble. Boston went into this ALCS favored, and the main reason the Red Sox were favored was the perceived weaker Yankees pitching.
On consecutive nights, Mussina essentially said, "Perceive this," then Lieber seconded that motion.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.