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Cliff 'Em All
2008-05-08 05:39
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

In just the fourth matchup in American League history of undefeated pitchers with at least five wins each, 6-0 Chien-Ming Wang scattered three runs over seven innings and yielded to scoreless relief work by Kyle Farnsworth and Jonathan Albaladejo.

It didn't matter. Cliff Lee, who entered the game with a 5-0 record, a 0.96 ERA, an absurd 0.56 WHIP, and an irridiculous 16:1 K/BB ratio, improved all of those marks, save the WHIP, in seven absolutely dominant shutout innings. Throwing mostly fastballs, Lee pounded the corners, throwing 74 percent strikes but hardly any of them off the black. Though his fastball clocked in around 90 to 91 miles per hour, it exploded through the zone, giving it the illusion of being in the mid-90s. Adding to that illusion was the speed with which Lee worked. Riding an obvious high of adrenaline and confidence, Lee seemed to be back in his windup before the hitter even had time to contemplate how Lee and his catcher, Kelly Shoppach, were working him. After the third out of each inning, Lee sprinted back to the dugout, almost as if he wanted the bottom half of each inning to get over with so that he could get back out there and pitch. When the top half of the next inning arrived, Lee would sprint back out to the mound.

The only baserunner Lee allowed through the first four innings came on a bloop single to shallow left by Hideki Matsui. Matsui took a defensive swing on a rare curveball from Lee and was so surprised that he didn't foul it off that he almost didn't run to first base. Down 3-0, the Yankees threatened in the fifth, sixth, and seventh, but came up empty each time. In the fifth, Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano singled with one out, but Lee struck out Morgan Ensberg and got Jose Molina to fly out to strand them. With two outs in the sixth, Bobby Abreu reached on an infield single to first baseman Casey Blake that should have been ruled an error as Blake's flip to Lee covering the bag arched too high and allowed Abreu to reach. Shelley Duncan followed with a double to push Abreu to third, but Lee got ahead of Matsui 1-2 and struck him out with a nasty curve ball that looked like it actually curved behind Matsui before dropping into the zone. The Yankees got another two-out infield single in the seventh when Morgan Ensberg drilled a pitch into the ground in front of home and beat it out, but Lee struck out Molina on four pitches to end his night. Rafael Perez pitched around a two-out Abreu double in the eighth, and Rafael Betancourt worked a 1-2-3 ninth to nail down Lee's sixth win of the year.

Lee is now 6-0 with a 0.81 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, and 19.5 K/BB. He's averaging more than 7 1/3 innings per start and has not allowed a run in any of his four road starts this year. After his first four starts, Baseball Prospectus's Rany Jazayerli wrote that Lee had turned in quite possibly the most dominant series of starts ever. The Yankees got a close up look at Lee's dominance last night, and it's for real. The only question is how long he can keep it up.

Comments
2008-05-08 06:38:50
1.   Felix Heredia
This guy is gonna come crashing back to earth. 91 mph fastballs don't "explode" through the zone. His pace and delivery is flummoxing batters, not unlike okajima's briefly did. But it's style - albeit subtle - over substance.
2008-05-08 07:13:59
2.   rbj
Sometimes you just gotta tip your cap to the opposing pitcher. Last night was one of those times.
2008-05-08 07:54:32
3.   flycaster
It certainly looked as though hitters can't pick up the ball coming out of Lee's hand. There can't be much else that explains major league hitters constantly being way late on 90 mph fastballs. Some guys are real good at hiding the ball before releasing it. I think Ted Lilly was kind of like that.

Let's score a few runs today.

2008-05-08 08:04:06
4.   JL25and3
1 There's more to "substance" than a mid-90's fastball. It wasn't pace and delivery that got people out yesterday, it was command and control. No, he won't be that precise every time out - but he's also got more in his arsenal than he showed last night, three other pitches he barely had to use.

Obviously, Lee won't keep putting up superhuman numbers. But the command he's been showing isn't an illusion, either. If he can approximate that most of the time, he'll be pretty darn good.

2008-05-08 08:20:28
5.   Raf
2 I agree

3 Sid Fernandez was pretty good at hiding the ball too.

2008-05-08 08:20:33
6.   Zack
4 To add to this all, as it seems like velocity has been such a hot button lately because of Kennedy and Hughes. Lee last night was exactly what Hughes has been in the minors. Low Whip, low ERA, High K:BB, and doing it all with excellent command of an "exploding fastball." Exploding in the sense of some late life and being able to place it exactly where he wants it whenever he wants to. You saw last night the results of what that can do and why everyone was saying that with Hughes it wasn't about whether he was throwing 91 or 94, but about where he was putting the ball...
2008-05-08 08:55:14
7.   pistolpete
5 Yeah, in a Whopper wrapper IIRC.
2008-05-08 12:03:31
8.   thelarmis
i'm late to the party on this thread, but Cliff - if you're reading this:

awesome title for this post! : )

Cliff Burton, R.I.P.

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