Virtually everything that went wrong for the Yankees last night was because of Cliff Lee, and the things that weren’t directly related to his dominating performance didn’t much matter, because he was winning that game no matter what the Yankees did. CC Sabathia was very good, but he would have had to match Lee pitch for pitch, which just wasn’t happening last night.
In a lot of ways, this is a good thing. A-Rod went 0-4 with three strikeouts, but that’s not necessarily because he’s back to his old postseason self; that’s just how good Lee was. The Yankees couldn’t string together enough hits to score until the ninth, but blame that on Lee, too. They didn’t draw any walks, but how could they? Lee was throwing strikes. Thankfully, Lee won’t likely be throwing strikes again until Game 5, given the Phillies’ preference to not pitch him on short rest.
But there was one major cause for concern not named Cliff Lee, and that was the Yankees’ bullpen, which struggled again. It took five pitchers to get six outs, and they gave up four runs while doing it. It probably didn’t hurt them much last night, because Chase Utley’s home runs off of Sabathia were all the Phillies needed, and Lee would have had to be taken out of that game for the Yankees to stage a true rally.
The problem is that these bullpen concerns will carry over into Game 2 and beyond. In particular, Phil Hughes — the once-automatic bridge to Mariano Rivera — has faced 25 batters in the postseason, and allowed 13 of them to reach base via a hit or a walk. His postseason ERA is 9.64. The Yankees haven’t been behind in a series this postseason until now. Against the Angels, the bullpen cost them twice, but at least they still had a series lead when those games were over. After last night, their margin for error is a whole lot slimmer.