New York Cliff Lee stumbled as he stepped up to his seat at the postgame podium.
“Booby trap right here,” he said with a grin.
That was about his only slip-up all night.
The ace of October went through the New York Yankees like a buzzsaw again, striking out 13 and pitching the Texas Rangers to an 8-0 victory Monday for a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven AL championship series.
Josh Hamilton hit an early two-run homer off Andy Pettitte and started a six-run outburst in the ninth with a leadoff double. Lee allowed only two singles in eight innings and became the first pitcher to reach double digits in strikeouts three times in one postseason.
“I’m not satisfied with that,” he said. “We still have some work to do here. A lot of fun to come into New York and get this first one. Hopefully we can come out here tomorrow and pick up where we left off.”
It’ll be a tough act to follow for Texas — Lee and the Rangers handed the Yankees the most lopsided shutout loss in their storied postseason history.
Mr. Automatic improved to 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in eight postseason starts. Three of those wins have come against the power-packed Yankees, including two in last year’s World Series for Philadelphia.
New York won the other four games against the Phillies to take home its 27th championship, but now faces a tall task to repeat. The Yankees must win three straight against the resilient Rangers to advance without facing Lee in a decisive Game 7 at Texas.
Game 4 is tonight, and the Yankees will start struggling right-hander A.J. Burnett, who hasn’t pitched since Oct. 2. Tommy Hunter goes for Texas in his first career start at Yankee Stadium.
“I don’t think we’re in trouble,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We’re down 2-1, we’re not down 3-0. It’s frustrating we’ve lost two games in a row, but we’ve lost two games in a row a lot of times before and come back.”
Pettitte, the ol’ pro seeking his 20th postseason win, did his best to match Lee. But the longtime New York left-hander hung a first-inning cutter that Hamilton yanked over the short porch in right for his second homer of the series.
“It was just a bad pitch by me,” Pettitte said. “At the time, you don’t think that’s going to win the ballgame.”
Lee matched a career high for strikeouts and Texas broke it open in the ninth against an ineffective David Robertson, getting RBI singles from Nelson Cruz and Bengie Molina, plus a two-run single by Mitch Moreland.
Rangers closer Neftali Feliz flung his 100 mph fastball in the ninth and finished the two-hitter in front of a nearly empty ballpark, adding two strikeouts to increase Texas’ total to 15 — one shy of a postseason record for Yankees batters.
New York’s two hits matched a postseason low also set in Game 4 of the 1958 World Series and Game 3 of the 2001 division series.
Lee nearly landed with the Yankees before Seattle traded him to Texas on July 9. Maybe they should have offered a few of their many All-Stars — Lee doesn’t seem to need much help.
New York could try again by throwing money at him in the offseason, when the lefty can become a free agent.
Michael Young had three hits for the Rangers, who are 4-0 on the road in these playoffs. Texas won all three games at Tampa Bay in the first round, including a pair of masterful performances by Lee.
“Yeah, they’re comparable. I felt good every time,” he said.
Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees fared no better. Cutters, curves, sliders — they couldn’t touch Lee, who pumps in one strike after another like a robot programmed to do so.
“He’s not just firing the ball down the middle of the plate. He’s throwing quality strike after quality strike, and there really is a big difference,” Young said.