SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) — Cliff Lee went from getting “The Claw” to an early hook. Suddenly, he looked nothing like the dominant October ace he had been the past two seasons.
Lee lost a postseason game for the first time and had his shortest outing, not even making it through five innings for the Texas Rangers in their first World Series game, an 11-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday evening.
“For the most part, I was a little bit erratic and trying to find it, and just for whatever reason, I couldn’t get consistent with locating pitches,” Lee said. “Our team scored seven runs, and that should be enough to win the game.”
The prized midseason acquisition the Rangers got in hopes of winning games like this couldn’t come through. The left-hander was gone after a six-batter span in the fifth when five reached base. Juan Uribe then greeted submarine-style reliever Darren O’Day with a three-run homer that made it 8-2.
All that came after Texas jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the matchup of former Cy Young Award winners. Lee even contributed offensively with a double in his first at-bat off Tim Lincecum in the second inning.
When Lee got to second base after his double into the left-center gap, all his teammates stood in the dugout emphatically waving their right arms high in the air, giving the team’s customary “claw” gesture for a big play.
Slow-footed Bengie Molina moved from first to third on Lee’s hit, then scored on a sacrifice fly by Elvis Andrus to make it 2-0.
On most October nights, that would be more than enough for Lee.
But Freddy Sanchez and the Giants refused to be overwhelmed.
“Everybody thinks he’s a machine,” Rangers catcher Bengie Molina said. “He’s not. He’s a human being and he had a tough game.”
Lee entered 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in eight postseason starts. He had given up only two runs over 24 innings in his three starts this postseason for Texas, which acquired him July 9 from Seattle.
And starting a World Series opener wasn’t a new experience for the free agent-to-be pitcher. He did it just last year for Philadelphia, winning the first and fifth games against the New York Yankees, who won the other four games and the Series.
Lee won twice in the AL division series for Texas against Tampa Bay, with a complete game in the clinching Game 5. He struck out 13 and allowed only two hits over eight innings in Game 3 of the AL championship series at New York.
The Rangers won the ALCS in six games, seemingly putting them in an enviable position. They had Lee for the World Series opener because they didn’t need him for a deciding Game 7 against the Yankees.
While Lee struck out seven in his 4 2-3 innings, San Francisco had eight hits — five doubles — and scored seven runs against him. The Giants had scored four or fewer runs in 16 of their previous 17 games, and their high mark in that span was a 6-5 victory over Philadelphia in Game 4 of the NL championship series.
“You never see him do that badly,” Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz said. “I didn’t see him throw any curveballs for strikes and that’s a tough pitch to hit against him.”
Lee had pitched at least seven innings in every one of his eight postseason starts before Wednesday night. He had never given up more than seven hits in the playoffs.
“It just wasn’t up to Cliff Lee standards, which everybody gets used to,” Josh Hamilton said.
After Sanchez hit an RBI double and rookie Buster Posey drove him home with a single to tie the game at 2 in the third, Lee seemed to settle down.
Pat Burrell and Cody Ross took called third strikes to end the third, the first of six consecutive batters retired by Lee.
Things fell apart after Lincecum led off the fifth with a groundout.
“I threw a ton of pitches, and threw a lot of balls. Threw a lot of pitches over the heart of the plate,” Lee said. “That fifth inning, I’ve got to do a better job of damage control right there. That’s unacceptable.”
Andres Torres and Sanchez had back-to-back doubles. After Posey took a called third strike, Burrell walked before Ross and Aubrey Huff had consecutive singles, ending Lee’s night.
“We just went up there aggressive. It’s no secret he’s a strike-thrower,” Huff said. “It’s a big game getting one of the best in baseball.”
After getting a couple of consolatory pats on the back, Lee had barely zipped up his jacket and settled onto the bench before Uribe knocked O’Day’s fastball into the left-field seats to break open the game.
Lee needed only 120 pitches to get through the complete game in Game 5 of the AL division series, but threw 104 against the Giants.
He was pitching on eight days’ rest since beating the Yankees, but an extended break wasn’t any problem for him going into last year’s World Series. He had nine days’ rest after his NL championship series start against the Los Angeles Dodgers, then struck out 10 with no walks in a complete game against the Yankees.
“I’m not going to sit here and make excuses,” Lee said. “The bottom line, I didn’t work ahead in the count effectively and I didn’t locate pitches.”
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