"He's spoiling us," Rangers president Nolan Ryan said after the game. "What can you say, it's one performance after another. He's phenomenal."Lee had to make that two-run lead stand over eight innings because the Rangers didn't break it open until they scored six runs in the top of the ninth against the Yankees' bullpen. That allowed Lee to call it a night after the eighth inning and let Neftali Feliz finish up. But manager Ron Washington made it clear that Lee was going back to the mound in the ninth if it was still 2-0. "We were going to ride him," Washington said. Why wouldn't they? "Absolute dominance," second baseman Ian Kinsler said after Lee raised his postseason record to 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in eight starts. He is 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA this year. Lee's 13 strikeouts also set a new Major League record, as he became the first pitcher to post three double-digit strikeout performances in the same postseason.
"It's really unbelievable to watch him," Rangers outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "When we were up, 2-0, it felt like we were totally in control with the way he was throwing."The Rangers hold a 2-1 lead in the ALCS with Tommy Hunter going to the mound for Game 4 on Tuesday night against A.J. Burnett. They might have had a 3-0 lead if not for the five runs scored by the Yankees in the eighth inning in Game 1, allowing then to pull out a 6-5 win.
2-1 ALCS ADVANTAGE
|Year||Team up 2-1||Opponent||Final|
|1993||Blue Jays||White Sox||4-2|
That's the only thing that has kept the defending world champions in the ALCS to this point. But the Rangers have definitely taken the upper hand, having outscored the Yankees, 20-8, and out-hit them, 30-19, in three games."We don't have the lower hand, I know that," Kinsler said. "We're a confident team playing really well right now." They also know this affair is far from finished. "We've played three great games and can't wait to come out tomorrow and get the next one going," catcher Bengie Molina said. "But I don't think anybody thinks this series is over. No way can you think this series is over. When you think it's over, that's when everything goes sour." Still, this is the 21st time that a team has held a 2-1 lead in a best-of-seven ALCS. In the previous 20, the team holding the 2-1 lead has ended up winning the series 15 times. "Obviously, we have played well for three games," Francoeur said. "But we know the power of that other lineup and what they can do. We just have to keep the pedal to the metal because we know how powerful they are. We can't let up the throttle." The Rangers still have two games left at Yankee Stadium, but they have won four straight games on the road this postseason, outscoring the opposition, 24-2. Game 3 drew 49,840 fans to Yankee Stadium on Monday night, but Hamilton put a damper on the usual October festivities with his two-run home run in the first. Lee kept the crowd in a dour mood the rest of the night and by the time the Rangers had finished scoring six in the ninth, more than half the stadium was empty. "Obviously, we know they've had a lot of winning here in New York," third baseman Michael Young said. "The fans are great, they are into every game. They are into every pitch. We love playing in this kind of setting. I think it's one of those things where we don't differentiate from where we are playing. We try to make sure we have the same effort regardless of where we are at." Young had three singles on the night and he set up Hamilton's home run with a nine-pitch at-bat against Pettitte. Young fouled off three two-strike pitches on the way to working the count full before smacking a single to right-center. Hamilton then hit the fourth pitch he saw into the seats down the right-field line and into the seats, giving the Rangers a 2-0 lead before Lee walked to the mound. Once he got there, he owned it. "It's a great feeling when you know the pitcher is going to throw the ball right where your glove is," Molina said. Lee retired the first 11 batters he faced before walking Mark Teixeira with two out in the fourth. He had a no-hitter going until a two-out single by Jorge Posada in the fifth. The Yankees finally got a leadoff hitter on base when Brett Gardner singled in the sixth. Gardner also stole second, giving the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. But Lee struck out Derek Jeter and then retired Nick Swisher and Teixeira on grounders to end the inning. Lee ended up retiring the final six hitters he faced before being able to take off the ninth inning. His 122 pitches were two short of a career high, but the Rangers were ready to ride him all the way if needed. "Awesome," outfielder Nelson Cruz said. "It's unbelievable ... he's pitching at the highest level possible." The Rangers are now two wins away from the World Series. They are one win away from ensuring that -- if needed -- Lee will get one more start in the ALCS. The way Lee is pitching, the second statement means the same as the first.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.