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Spotless in playoffs, Lee shrugs off pressure

Spotless in playoffs, Lee shrugs off pressure

NEW YORK -- When he starts, the Rangers definite-Lee expect to win.

"Any time we have Cliff Lee on the mound, we're pretty confident," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said.

The pressure, though, like postseason opponents, does not get to Lee.

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Listening to him talk Sunday on the eve of his start against the Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, you would think Lee was discussing a June regular-season game and not one that gives the winner a 2-1 advantage.

"I don't think he really even feels pressure, honestly," Kinsler said. "He's a pretty simple guy, he goes out there and knows what he wants to accomplish and accomplishes it."

When it comes to the postseason, Lee has been successful every time he's taken the mound. In seven starts, he is 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA, and the only game that he did not win -- Game 4 of the 2009 National League Division Series for the Phillies when an error led to a pair of unearned runs against him -- his team did.

Naturally, then, the expectation among baseball pundits is that the Rangers are the clear favorites in Game 3 despite the fact that Andy Pettitte, a pretty good postseason pitcher in his own right, will be on the mound for the Yankees.

"Regardless of what other people expect of me, I expect as much out of myself or more than anybody is going to expect out of me," Lee said. "So I don't look at it any different than I would any other game. I expect to be successful and that's the game plan [Monday] and every time I take the mound."

Lee has started twice this postseason, beating the Rays in Games 1 and 5 of the ALDS, both times by a 5-1 score. Because he had to go the distance in Game 5, he was not able to start in the ALCS until Game 3.

Thanks to a Texas win in Game 2, the series is essentially down to a best-of-five with Lee set to also start in Game 7. That's not good news for the Yankees, who dropped both games Lee pitched against them in the 2009 World Series.

"Hopefully, our pitchers will go out there and pitch well and we can scratch and claw and get a few runs off Cliff," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "Cliff deserves all the accolades and all the attention. At the same time, we have a job to do and we are going to try to beat him. We faced him enough. We know what he throws; we know what he is going to do. We expect him to be on top of his game, so we have to be on top of our game."

The Yankees are a patient bunch at the plate with the intent of seeing a lot of pitches, wearing down the opposing starter and getting him out of the game as quickly as possible. That's an approach that does not really work against Lee because he's a strike machine. The 32-year-old walked 18 batters in 212 1/3 innings during the regular season.

"I don't think there's an exact science how you approach Cliff Lee," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "But to me, he's a lot like Roy Halladay. If you try to take a couple of pitches and get deep in the count, you might be 0-2. So for me with Cliff Lee, I think you have to be ready to hit from pitch one. And if he makes a mistake, don't miss it."

Lee is familiar with the Yankees' lineup, having faced it not only during the postseason last year, but also three times this year, when he was 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA.

"They're basically an All-Star team," Lee said. "From top to bottom, they have threats everywhere. I know it's a team that if you miss out over the plate and find yourself in 2-0, 1-2 [counts], bad things are going to happen. I have to stay away from 2-0, 3-1, not walk guys and stay out of the heart of the plate and mix speeds. That's what I'm going to try to do, locate and keep the ball down and away, down and in, up and in, out of the strike zone here and there to keep them honest, and just try to keep them off balance."

Not that there needs to be any added intrigue to the matchup, but Lee could easily be wearing pinstripes rather than the red and blue of the Rangers had Yankees been able to complete a deal with the Mariners for his services in July.

At the last minute, some argue it was after the last minute, the Rangers were able to snag Lee.

It's a subject the Yankees have tried to stay clear of this past week just as Lee demurs when asked about the possibility of signing with the Yankees as a free agent this winter.

"You're asking a hypothetical question," Girardi said when the subject of the Lee trade was broached. "I've always said you never count on trade rumors until actually the guy is in your clubhouse."

For now, Lee is in the Rangers' clubhouse and with him on the mound, Texas is a confident club.

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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