Lee K's way into playoff record books
Three games of double-digit strikeouts set mark
NEW YORK -- Another postseason start, another record-setting performance for the Rangers' Cliff Lee.
The left-hander struck out 13 Yankees in Monday night's 8-0 victory in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, becoming the first pitcher in Major League history to fan 10 or more three times in a single postseason.
The 13 strikeouts matched his career high, set this year against the A's on July 27.
Sitting in the first row behind home plate at Yankee Stadium, Rangers president and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan could only marvel at how his ace once again came through in the clutch.
"He's just phenomenal with the performances and he's so consistent," said Ryan, who is baseball's all-time leader in strikeouts with 5,714. "You hate to say that's what your expectation is of him, but that's what it is because he's been so consistent that way."
Lee, who did not allow a hit until Jorge Posada poked a single to right with two outs in the fifth on Monday, has five career playoff games with 10 or more strikeouts, which ties him with Hall of Famer Bob Gibson and Randy Johnson for the most all-time.
"I was just throwing strikes," Lee said. "The cutter was a really good pitch for me today. I was working ahead in the count and staying out of the heart of the plate. That's the name of the game as far as pitching goes, and I was able to do that tonight."
Lee fanned 10 in Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Rays and followed that up with 11 in Game 5.
"Yeah, they are comparable," Lee said of the two starts vs. Tampa Bay and Monday's against the Yankees. "I've felt good for a while. I've felt good all season. I've felt good every start in the postseason."
Lee certainly has performed well in every playoff start, going 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in eight starts, including winning his last six starts, one short of Gibson.
"The most consistent pitcher I've ever seen," Ryan said.
Where does Lee stand?*
On Monday, Lee struck out one in the first, two in the second, two in the third, two in the fourth, two in the fifth before getting Derek Jeter for No. 10 in the sixth to secure the record. He added three more while completing eight innings on 122 pitches, though he was ready for the ninth before the Rangers padded their lead with six runs in the top of the frame.
"I think the reason is because he doesn't get rattled out there," Rangers catcher Bengie Molina said. "He knows what he has and has a lot of confidence in himself. He knows what pitches he can throw and that's it. He takes it out on the mound and hits his spots in and out, curveball for a strike and ball and his fastball up or his changeup down."
Here's a look at some of Lee's postseason accomplishments:
His 1.26 ERA ranks third behind Sandy Koufax (0.95) and Christy Mathewson (1.06) among pitchers with at least five postseason starts.
By winning his first seven decisions, he is tied with Orel Hershiser for second all-time in wins before taking a loss. Orlando Hernandez holds the record with wins in eight consecutive postseason decisions.
Opponents have hit .172 against him, the lowest mark for a pitcher with a minimum of 40 innings pitched.
He joined Gibson as the only pitchers to strike out at least 10 batters in five of their first eight playoff starts.
The eight shutout innings extended his scoreless innings streak to 14 dating to the fourth inning of Game 5 of the ALDS.
He has allowed 6.56 baserunners per nine innings, the fewest all-time among pitchers with a minimum of 40 innings.
"I think very much so," Ryan said when asked if Lee's postseason performances were on par with Koufax and Gibson. "I think he's as consistent [a pitcher] that's ever pitched in the postseason. Just a carryover from last year and he's doing it again this year and I don't know anybody you can really compare him to as far as command and the kind of games he's consistently pitched."
Should the series go the distance, a fully rested Lee will be available to pitch Game 7. By that point, it seems, Game 3 will be a distant memory for him.
"You know, for me, the key is to put it behind you whether it's good, bad or somewhere in the middle," he said. "Once it's over, it's over. You have to move forward and focus on the next one. Just because I had a good game this time and the previous time doesn't mean it's going to happen again. I've still got to go out there and focus on my routine and do what I need to do every day in between and prepare for the next. I rely on that a lot. That's what enables me to be confident and that's what works for me and I feel if I do every day what I need to do to prepare, I should be out there confident and expect to win."
When it comes to the postseason, it seems, everyone expects Lee to win.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.