x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Lee belongs with greats

What Cliff Lee of the Texas Rangers has done this month cannot be compared to contemporaries, but rather, should be matched against the greatest pitchers of all time.

Cliff Lee, the Rangers pitcher, has the ability to overpower while pitching with precision, according to our columnist.
Cliff Lee, the Rangers pitcher, has the ability to overpower while pitching with precision, according to our columnist.

Like the regular season, the 2010 post-season is being marked by outstanding pitching performances.

There was Roy Halladay's no-hitter in his first ever play-off start, followed the next day by the dazzling outing by Tim Lincecum, who struck out 14 in his first post-season start.

As it turns out, those were mere appetisers for the main course. What Cliff Lee of the Texas Rangers has done this month cannot be compared to contemporaries, but rather, should be matched against the greatest pitchers of all time.

Lee, who is 3-0 with an 0.75 ERA, is inviting comparisons to the likes of Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax.

Two of the most dominant pitchers of the 1960s, Gibson and Koufax took their game to great heights in the post-season. Gibson once won seven straight World Series games for the St Louis Cardinals and was named Series MVP in 1964 and 1967. Koufax had a 0.95 ERA in four World Series for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Does Lee belong in such company?

"I think very much so," Nolan Ryan, the Rangers president, said. "He's as consistent as anyone who's ever pitched post-season.

"It's a carry-over from last year and he's doing it again this year. I don't know anybody you really can compare him to as far as his command and the kind of games he's consistently pitched."

That would be strong praise from any club executive. That the club executive has more strikeouts than any pitcher who ever lived, to say nothing of seven no-hitters, puts it in perspective.

Ryan knows pitching. He appreciates power, because he had it to spare, and he especially appreciates control, because for much of his early career, he lacked it.

In Lee, he is watching a historic blend of power and finesse, the ability to overpower while pitching with precision.

"He's walked, what, one guy? He's unbelievable," Ryan said.

In three play-off starts this month, Lee has allowed two runs and only 13 hits in 24 innings. Even more impressive is his outrageous strikeout-to-walk ratio, which sits at 34-to-one.

The only problem for the Rangers? Lee, obtained in mid-season in a go-for-broke trade with Seattle, is eligible for free agency next month. Ryan would not hazard a guess about how much it would cost Texas - or any club - to sign him. He just knows it will be a lot.

And though Ryan would not say so for fear of losing some bargaining leverage, right now Lee is worth every dollar.

sports@thenational.ae