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NEW YORK (AP) — First things first for the Yankees. Why worry about Cliff Lee when you can fret over the Texas Rangers' opening pitcher?
"Let's think about C.J. Wilson first," catcher Jorge Posada said Wednesday. "We've go to concentrate on Game 1. We can't go ahead and think about Game 3."
Cliff Lee has resembled a combination of Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Jack Morris the last two Octobers, going 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA and three complete games in seven career postseason starts. He's struck out 54 and walked six in 56 1-3 innings.
During the first round series against Tampa Bay, Lee had a MLB 2K10-like 21 strikeouts and no walks in 16 innings.
While Lee started twice against the Rays, Wilson pitched 6 1-3 shutout innings in his one start. Texas had a 2.40 ERA in the five-game series.
"Their pitching is very good, very solid," first baseman Mark Teixeira said as he thought about Friday's AL championship series opener. "And if we pitch the way we're capable of and they pitch the way they're capable of, there may not be a lot of runs scored."
Lee and Wilson are both southpaws, but different. Left-handed batters hit .281 during the regular season against Lee, a feast compared to their .144 average — with no home runs — against Wilson.
"He can cut the ball. He can ride it inside to left-handers. He can sink it, and he's got a breaking ball and he has a changeup," Rangers manager Ron Washington said of Wilson. "Each time he takes the baseball, he gets better. He's always ready for a challenge."
Lee is 8-4 against the Yankees, including postseason play. When he faced them on Aug. 11, New York trailed 6-1 in the sixth and rallied to win 7-6. He gave up four runs in 6 1-3 innings.
"We had good at-bats," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The only way to be patient on Cliff Lee and get his pitch count up is to foul a lot of balls off and then get a base hit. He's aggressive. He throws a lot of strikes. He knows how to move the ball in and out, up and down, change speeds. You've got to look for that one mistake, and you have to hit it."
Lee almost wound up on the other side of this series. The Yankees and Seattle agreed to a tentative deal in July that would have sent Lee to New York for catching prospect Jesus Montero, minor league second baseman David Adams and another prospect. But the Mariners decided not to go through with it when they learned Adams had a toe injury, then dealt Lee to the Rangers for rookie first baseman Justin Smoak and three minor leaguers.
"There was a lot of discussion about players that we were interested in, that it was possibly going to happen, it wasn't going to happen," Girardi said.
CC Sabathia, Lee's ex-Cleveland Indians teammate, was looking forward to having the Yankees matching up against a buddy. While Sabathia is starting the opener, Lee won't appear until the series shifts to New York.
"You want your friends to pitch well and to play well — not so much in Game 3, but we'll see," Sabathia said. "I just think he's laid back, you know, kind of like me in the same way. Take the ball whenever you need him to.
Lee is eligible for free agency after the World Series and with the expedited offseason schedule could be signing with the Yankees before Thanksgiving. Some New York fans already are envisioning him in pinstripes.
"I don't worry about next year," Girardi said. "I only worry about this year."