Tuesday, October 19, 2010

10/19 Quickie: Cliff Lee Best Ever?

It's almost unfair to try to rank Cliff Lee's dominating performance last night against Roy Halladay's no-hitter and Tim Lincecum's 14-K game (in a 1-0 win) from the LDS round.

But let me try to make an argument that Lee's win was even better:

*Allowed only 2 hits (almost Halladay-ish) and struck out 13 (almost Lincecum-ish) -- a best-of-both-worlds performance.

*Did it against the defending champ Yankees, a lineup far superior to the lineups that either Halladay or Lincecum faced. (In the Yankees' LCS home debut.)

*It is arguable (if not mathematically precise) that this game was a must-win if the Rangers want to advance. And the LCS round is "bigger" than the LDS round.

*Lee is no one-shot wonder: He became the first pitcher ever to record double-digit strikeout games three times in one postseason. (It was his 3rd win over the Yankees.)

Let's not quibble: Halladay's no-no and Lincecum's 14-K game score might -- might -- have been even better than Lee's gem. Amazingly, Lee is in the conversation.

But it's not just about what Lee did last night -- but what he has done this entire postseason, combined with what he did last season (beat NY twice) and his whole postseason career (7-0, 1.26 ERA). In a field with Doc and Freak, Lee has become the most "must-see" of all.

Is it fair to introduce that in Lee, we are watching the best postseason pitcher of our generation? His unbeaten record, "Yankee-killer" status and K dominance say "Yes."


PS: Obviously, I use "ever" in the headline in a Quickie way: "Ever" means "since ESPN launched about 30 years ago." And, in our era of "instant history," I'd say that is a generous interpretation. Most "evers" are talking about a lot less time than that.

Great cases to be made for Koufax and Gibson, let alone Christy Mathewson. But if you're talking about the last 40 years, Lee is in the conversation. And that he is even IN the conversation is impressive enough.

I am a huge fan of superlatives, but have little interest in the unsolvable debates that spring from them. Do we REALLY want to try to find a "winner" between Lee and, say, Bob Gibson? I don't think so; let's just appreciate that Lee is the best (even among the best) in recent memory.


MLB Tonight: AJ Burnett to keep the Yankees from the brink? That's must-see in its own right -- especially if you enjoy Yankee schadenfreude. (The other option is that Burnett out-performs his history and comes up "big," which -- to Joe Sheehan's point -- inevitably means that he gets big run support, not necessarily that he pitches well.)


NFL Concussion Epidemic: Belatedly, the league is going to start delivering suspensions to players who deliver "head shots" on other players.

Suspensions certainly hurt more than fines. But here is the problem: The game's culture is built on "jacked up!" Are there worse hits now than before? Or is the public perception just turning?

(This is the fundamental problem with folks who say an 18-game season is too brutal. The NFL's particular brutality -- the "devastating hits" and "head shots" -- isn't additive; it is singular yet repeatable. Fans don't see the wear-and-tear; they see the injury-producing kill-shots. Even if you shortened a season to 8 weeks, you'd still have the DeSean Jackson hit from Week 6. The sport is brutal. Want to make it safe? Make it flag football. Of course then, no one would watch.

Look at James Harrison: "I try to hurt people." Not INJURE them, mind you. I think he used a bad choice of words, and he meant that he wants to "punish" people. Punish them into thinking twice about catching that ball over the middle, punish them so that they are incrementally less effective late in game when it matters. Coaches would call that "strategy" -- and encourage it.


MNF: Titans roll, but whither VY? The story of the game was QB injuries: They lost Vince Young to a knee injury, and the Jags' David Garrard was TKO'ed with a concussion.

(Meanwhile, anyone else lose a fantasy week on Chris Johnson's late TD romp? I did! Thanks for calling all those time-outs, Jack Del Rio. You pissed off Jeff Fisher enough to let CJ rumble.)


Did Junior Seau try to kill himself? His ex-wife says no, but recent history shows that accidents (or "accidents") in cars by stars following marital issues are rarely what they seem.


Heat Advisory: LeBron had 33 -- a high among all players in the preseason -- but the Heat lost. No lingering hamstring issues for James, but the Heat took another injury: Mike Miller sprained his ankle. I think Miller is an X-factor if the Heat want to win a championship. Like the rest of them, he might not matter much in the regular season, but will be key in any playoff run.

Why are the Thunder ready to surge? Check out the contributions last night: Kevin Durant had 29; Jeff Green had 27; James Harden had 18; Russell Westbrook had 17; Serge Ibaka had 12. They are a young, talented lineup getting better every month.


College Hoops: Is UNC freshman Harrison Barnes going to be the National Player of the Year? I like that pick (cleverly staked out by CBSSports' Gary Parrish) more than other choices. One of my biggest pet peeves is the way that almost all preseason All-America teams ignore freshmen, even though freshmen have dominated the landscape, from Carmelo to Durant to Beasley to Wall. The only thing constraining Barnes' dominance is that he plays at UNC; if Barnes was at Iowa State, he would be a lock for P.O.Y.


*Magic sells Lakers stake: Is he positioning for a move to buy the Pistons? (If you could get no financial gain and had to spend your entire lifetime locked up as part of the ownership group, which team would you want to be a part-owner of? The NFL is most glamorous and easiest on your schedule, but having seen Mark Cuban live at a game, I really do like how close-up the experience is as an NBA owner.)


*Cards re-sign Tony LaRussa: This was a down year -- and the franchise has some talent issues (aside from having the best player of the last half-century) -- but LaRussa remains a Top 5 manager in baseball.


CFB Good Read: I love Clay Travis' weekly Monday college football column. Lots of good stuff in there yesterday (even beyond "Fire Addazio," which hits close to home). Cam Newton for Heisman? Yup. Boise and TCU should play a post-season exhibition? Yup. Matt Barkley as No. 1 overall pick of 2012 NFL Draft? Yup. SEC BCS secession? (My favorite.)


PED Watch: Another day, another Olympic champ is busted. This time, it was 400-meter gold medalist LaShawn Merritt who was suspended after a positive test for banned testosterone. (No, wait: He says he took "ExtenZe" -- that "male enhancement" pill you see on late-night ads on ESPN or other cable networks. Enjoy the 15 minutes of fame, ExtenZe!)

-- D.S.

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