There he was, right before their eyes. Last night, in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, Cliff Lee allowed two hits in eight innings of work as Texas took a 2-1 series lead.
While the home crowd cheered for the Bronx Bombers to crank up the offense and knock Lee out of the game, those fans had to be thinking about what Lee would look like pitching for the home team at the Palace The George Built.
They might get to find out soon enough. Lee is a free agent, and there doesn’t seem to be any question that the Yanks will open up that bottomless wallet and make him their biggest offseason priority.
It’s a scary thought. Lee, one of the top five pitchers in the game, would give New York the best combo of left-handed pitching in the game.
Along with CC Sabathia, and (perhaps) Andy Pettitte, the Yankees could provide nightmares for left-handed hitters like David Ortiz and JD Drew.
It’s not just that Lee is good, it’s that he’s at his best when the game means the most. He got the win in two of the Rangers’ three victories over Tampa Bay in the ALDS. Last October with the Phillies, he was the only pitcher to beat the Yankees in the World Series. He did it twice; the Phillies were 0-4 in the games he didn’t start.
In his last five postseason starts, Lee has thrown 40 innings, given up seven earned runs and struck out 47 batters.
He would be the perfect addition to the Yankees. They’ve still got a fearsome lineup, but have plenty of question marks on the pitching staff.
That’s why A.J. Burnett will start for the Yankees tonight in Game 4.
The Red Sox know they can’t make offseason plans based on what the Yankees are doing. They’ve got plenty of issues to deal with themselves. They need more offense, and much better relief pitching. They will try to address those issues no matter what’s going on in the Bronx.
What they don’t need is starting pitchers. While Josh Beckett and John Lackey were disappointing this season, and Daisuke Matsuzaka was his frustrating self, they’ve got a five-man rotation under contract for years to come. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are young and at the top of their game.
There is no chance the Sox will swoop in and get Lee. He might be the best, but he doesn’t fit their needs. If you’re a Red Sox fan, your best hope is that another team will swoop in and grab Lee. It won’t be the Rangers – Lee made it clear he doesn’t like pitching in the Texas heat earlier this season.
He does like pitching in big games, however. And he would probably get to pitch in plenty of those with the Yankees. That’s why New York fans watched him last night and wondered what he would look like pitching there in the future.
Boston fans wondered, too. Wondered, and worried.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.