Dear Nolan Ryan: Give Cliff Lee whatever he asks for.

Another photo I'm using without permission.  Lee after last night's win. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Another photo I'm using without permission. Lee after last night's win. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Before last night’s Rangers/Yankees game began, TBS talking head Craig Sager was interviewing Ian Kinsler and chiding him about getting picked off by Kerry Wood in game one.  Reminding Kinsler, as if he had to, that Andy Pettitte with his fantastic balk pickoff move would be on the mound, he made it very clear that Kinsler was going up against a far superior opponent.  Ian took it all in stride and assured Sager that, if he made it to first base, he’d “stay put”.  Good for Kinsler for not shoving Sager’s microphone up Sager’s nose.

The Yankees are the most successful team in MLB history.  There is no arguing this.  They have 27 World Championships behind them.  I am not arguing this.  But what Craig Sager, and Peter Gammons, and John Kruk and every other person who covers baseball seems to forget is that there are 29 other teams that are MAJOR LEAGUE teams.  And seven of those teams ALSO made it into the postseason this year.  Those seven teams have a total of 175 professional baseball players who have been deemed talented enough to play in the Majors.  The New York Yankees are not the only team in baseball that employs good players.

But back to the current matchup:  Rangers v Yankees.  Prior to last night’s game, we were hearing hyperbole like “The Rangers must be intimidated coming into Yankee Stadium”.  No.  No they weren’t.  The Rangers play in Yankee Stadium every year.  And this Yankee Stadium isn’t the old Yankee Stadium.  Regardless of the cemetery they have in the outfield, there is no “mystique” or “aura” in this new park.  I’ve been there…I know this first hand.  It’s a park, like any other, and the Rangers are all big boys and professionals.  The way most of the professional media sounded, it was as if the Bad News Bears were going into the Bronx to play against the Yankees.  My dream is that some day the baseball media can talk about the Yankees without sounding like 11 year-old fan boys and girls.  I have a feeling, given that even non-Yankee ex-players like Ron Darling and John Smoltz spend their broadcasting time ballwashing the Yanks, that this will never happen.

With his 13 strikeouts last night, Cliff Lee made ALCS history at Yankee Stadium.  The most strikeouts in an ALCS since David Wells had 11 in 1998.  Oh, he also became the first pitcher in postseason history to have 7 consecutive wins (officially it’s the “Most Wins Without a Loss in the Postseason”.  Lefty Gomez previously held the record for his 6 consecutive postseason wins from 1932-1939).  He shut out the Yankees in 8 full innings and would have most likely pitched a complete game had his team not piled on in the 9th.  He was the complete opposite of what you would expect from a team intimidated by the mighty Yankees and their stadium.  His performance was so amazing so early on that when he gave up his first baserunner, a walk in the fourth inning, Yankees fans gave Mark Teixeira a standing ovation for drawing the walk.

My point is, the Rangers are as deserving to be in the ALCS as the Yankees are (hell, the way the Yanks have been playing, maybe more so).  You can talk about the histories of the teams without making a connection that the histories have any real bearing on the games being played in the present time.  Right now, those 27 rings don’t mean anything.  The fact that the Rangers have only won one postseason game at home means nothing.  The Rangers have made it obvious that they aren’t going to roll over for the Yankees and they deserve more respect than they are getting.

To prove my point, I’m watching the MLB Network as I’m writing this and Barry Larkin just said about the Rangers, with genuine surprise in his voice, “…they don’t look like a team that’s saying, ‘we’re playing the vaulted [sic] Yankees and we just gotta go out there and play our best brand of baseball’, I really do believe these guys expect to win.”

How odd.  The Rangers didn’t say “Screw it, we’re playing the Yankees in the ALCS, our season is over”. Go figure. They must not have received the MLB memo telling them to bow down to the “vaulted” Yankees.

The Yankees fans started leaving the game in droves in the 8th inning and then again in the 9th.  It’s a playoff game.  You paid a boatload of money to get to that game and your team is one of the teams playing.  Leaving the game shows a level of entitlement and arrogance that is mind boggling to me.  Even the Yankees deserve support from their fans.  (Especially in the 8th when the score was still only 2-0!)

Two other things:  I won’t pile on and say that AJ Burnett is a bad choice for tonight’s game.  Sure he’s struggled but it isn’t an absolute given that he will suck and the Yankees sure do pay him a lot of money to decide now that he isn’t good enough to be one of their starting pitchers.  It’s a tough call, for sure, I just am not convinced it’s the wrong one (although he hasn’t pitched in 17 days…that’s a bit worrisome).  I think there’s a great chance it’s a horrible call but I guess as long as it isn’t the game that decides the series, sometimes you have to play it so that you have your better pitcher available for the series-clinching game.  So I can’t hassle Girardi if he decides to use him.  I know I don’t want to be the one to make that decision.  I’ll also be absolutely delighted if AJ is terrible tonight…I can’t lie.

My other issue:  A few of my Yankees fan acquaintances licked their wounds last night by telling me that I should enjoy Lee now because next year he’s a Yankee.  As I’ve written before, this is why we hate you.  I don’t know what Cliff Lee is thinking but I do know this, Cliff Lee is playing in the playoffs this year as a Ranger.  He’s been in the playoffs as a Phillie (and was part of an Indians team that went to the playoffs even though he didn’t make the post-season roster because that was his struggling year).  He already knows he doesn’t need to be on the Yankees to get into the playoffs.  Sure the Yankees can throw money at him but we haven’t established yet that he’s going to go running ala Johnny Damon for a few extra million a year.  I’d like to believe that Nolan Ryan is serious about keeping his team a contender and that will hopefully mean he gives Lee whatever is necessary to keep him a part of the team.  It does not give you any kind of high ground to say “Sure he beat us but next year he’ll be pitching for us so it’s all good!” (a line from an actual email I received this morning).  Let’s wait until the baseball season is truly over before we assume Cliff Lee will sell his soul.  For now, I live in a rose-colored world where he wants to play ball, be successful at it, make good money and  play for fans who won’t bail in the 8th because their team is losing.

Two games today, folks.  ALCS at 8pm on TBS and NLCS at 4pm on Fox.  I know it isn’t the Red Sox but there is a lot of entertaining baseball being played right now!

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