- Wallace Matthews, ESPNNewYork.com
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The spectre of Cliff Lee looming over Games 3 and 7 of the ALCS may be enough to scare the pinstripes off most Yankee fans, and it is a subject most of the Yankees would prefer not to talk about.
But not all.
Hitting coach Kevin Long, the self-styled Cage Rat -- which is the title of his upcoming book -- and the man entrusted with shaping the approach of the Yankees lineup to go up against arguably the most formidable starting pitcher left in the post-season is not about to concede either of those games to the strike-throwing lefty. Lee stymied the Yankees twice in the 2009 World Series as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies and beat them twice this year, once with the Seattle Mariners and once with the Texas Rangers.
"He's not invincible,'' Long said at a Thursday afternoon media session at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on the eve of Game 1. "He's not the Messiah that nobody can beat. Everybody seems to be conceding him two games, but there's a lot of baseball yet to be played.''
Long pointed to Game 5 of the 2009 Series, in which the Yankees improved from their 6-1 Game 1 thrashing to score five runs off Lee in seven innings, only to lose 8-6. He also brought up a meeting with the Rangers in the Bronx on August 11 in which the Yankees fell behind 6-1 after five innings but rallied to win the game, 7-6, scoring four runs off Lee and the winning runs off the Rangers closer Neftali Feliz.
"Look, we know he attacks the strike zone,'' said Long, an advocate of the patient approach practiced by Yankees hitters, who like to work the count and wait for a pitch to hit -- not always the best way to attack Lee.
"Should we be more aggressive than normal? I would say so,'' Long said. "But you can't be overly aggressive either, because nothing he throws is coming down the middle. If he's hitting his spots in and out, it's gonna be tough. We just gotta be ready to hit from the moment we step into the box.''
Long declined to provide specifics of what his hitters would do against Lee except to say, "We have a game plan for every pitcher we face and we have one for him. In the past, it seems like we've been able to get to him late. But the truth is, he's either gonna be in the middle of the plate or he's not. Usually not.''
Said Yankees manager Joe Girardi: "With Cliff Lee, you have to be ready to hit, and if he makes a mistake, you better not miss it, because you may not get another one.''
The spectre of Cliff Lee looming over Games 3 and 7 of the ALCS may be enough to scare the pinstripes off most Yankee fans, and is a subject most of the Yankees would prefer not to talk about.