San Francisco — Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and the rest of the San Francisco Giants can study the scouting reports and videotape all they want, trying to find the secret to getting a hit against Cliff Lee.
Or, they can just ask Cody Ross.
Because many years ago, before he blossomed into the MVP of the NL championship series, Ross was a struggling rookie with the Detroit Tigers. Who happened to hit his first major league home run off Lee. A grand slam, at that.
Of course, Lee was early in his career, too. He hardly had become Mr. Perfect in the postseason, the left-hander who will pose a giant challenge for San Francisco when it faces the Texas Rangers in Game 1 of the World Series tonight.
“Cliff Lee, superhero,” summed up Sandoval.
Watch Lee from the center-field camera and it’s difficult to tell exactly what makes him so dominant.
David Price brings more heat. Andy Pettitte brought more October experience. But Lee beat them in the playoffs.
Maybe it’s the way he throws any of his pitches for strikes on any count.
At any speed, too.
Lee is 7-0 with a 1.26 earned-run average in eight lifetime postseason starts heading into his matchup with two-time NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum in the opener. Lee went 3-0 this year in the AL playoffs, striking out 34 and walking just one.
Lincecum and Lee pose an intriguing matchup of opposite artisans. The Giants’ lanky ace’s pitches have dizzying movement, while Lee is able to adjust his pinpoint control for an umpire’s strike zone.
Lee’s severe strikeout-to-walk ratio has prompted many to suggest the best strategy is to hit the first strike he throws, rather than risk falling behind in the count.
A victory over the Giants will tie Lee for the best start in postseason history — Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, with all his quirky gyrations and deliveries, won his first eight decisions.
To Lee, it’s all rather routine. In fact, there was a neat picture of him during the playoffs, yawning in the dugout at Yankee Stadium.
Sure doesn’t look like someone pitching in huge games.
“I don’t really look at it like that,” Lee said a few days ago. “Some people might; I don’t feel any more pressure.”
Lee has been equally perfect against the Giants — three starts, three wins and a 1.13 ERA. He last faced them in 2009 in his first start after being traded from Cleveland to Philadelphia, and breezed at AT&T Park.
“Weather and clubhouse and the bullpens” are different, he said. “Once you get on the mound, it’s 60 feet, 6 inches and you’ve still got a professional hitter in there trying to do damage off of you. To me, that doesn’t really matter that much.”
Several of the Giants have faced Lee many times.
Juan Uribe is 11-for-37 (.297) with two homers against him. Jose Guillen is 9-for-25 (.360) with two homers. Aaron Rowand is 7-for-25 (.280) with four doubles and a home run. Aubrey Huff is 5-for-19 (.263).
Rowand is willing to give any advice he can.
“You can watch video. You can talk to them about what his out pitches are, what he likes to do when he’s ahead, and with runners on,” he said.
Then there’s Ross.
Ross had played a handful of games in the majors and had only two career hits when he faced Lee on Sept. 2, 2003. Ross struck out looking his first time up, but got more than even in his next at-bat, launching the first grand slam ever allowed by the young Cleveland lefty.
The game was memorable for Ross because of something else. In the late innings, he tripped over first base beating out a bunt, tore his knee, was carted off the field and done for the season.
Both Ross and Lee have come quite a way since then. They haven’t faced each other since the slam, either. Ross promises his team will be ready for baseball’s No. 1 postseason ace, having already solved the supposedly unbeatable Roy Halladay in the NLCS opener.