NEW YORK — If it's any solace for the Rays, the Yankees couldn't beat Cliff Lee, either. And they couldn't even get a run.
The Texas left-hander was even better in Monday night's ALCS Game 3 spotlight at Yankee Stadium than in his two division series victories at Tropicana Field, leading the Rangers to an 8-0 win with a dominating and dazzling performance, allowing two hits while striking out 13 over eight innings.
"Pretty much a masterpiece," Yankees cleanup hitter Alex Rodriguez said.
"A phenomenal performance," said Nolan Ryan, the Rangers president and Hall of Famer. "He's the most consistent pitcher I've ever seen."
Lee got all the help he needed in the first inning as Josh Hamilton, the one-time Rays prospect, clubbed a two-run homer off Andy Pettitte, then a hefty bonus as the Rangers added six runs in an ugly ninth inning that emptied Yankee Stadium.
The result left the Rangers with a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and the Yankees a two-step from joining the Rays on the October couch.
In his two wins over the Rays, Lee allowed a run each time, five hits over seven innings in the opener and six in his complete-game clinching win, while striking out 10 and 11.
Lee said the two starts against the Rays were "comparable" but, somehow, he was even better Monday. And he made history in the process, extending his career postseason mark to 7-0 while becoming the first pitcher to have three games of 10 or more strikeouts in a single postseason. (And the second to have three consecutive in postseason play, joining Bob Gibson, who did it over the 1967-68 World Series.)
"He pitched well; I don't know what else to tell ya," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "He pitched a good game. You get to this point, guys pitch good games at times. He's done it a lot. He pitched well. I think he pitched well the last series, too. So it's not like this is a shock."
What did seem like a shock to the Yankees was being down 2-1 in the series. Now their season is essentially in the hands of struggling starter A.J. Burnett. And history is not kind, as 22 of the 29 teams to take a 2-1 ALCS lead have gone on to the World Series.
The matchup featured two of the most successful postseason performers in Lee and Pettitte, and it lived up to its promise.
Pettitte came in with a record 19 wins, plus nine losses and a 3.87 ERA in 41 postseason starts, and he was undefeated over his past nine, matching the third longest streak. He wasn't bad Monday, allowing five hits over his seven innings, but the Hamilton homer haunted him.
"Just a bad pitch by me," Pettitte said. "At the time, you don't think that's going to win the ball game."
But Lee, who came in 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA in his first seven postseason appearances and on a five-game winning streak, made it so while throwing a season-high 122 pitches.
Lee — who also tormented the Yankees in last year's World Series when he won Games 1 and 5 for the Phillies — didn't allow a hit until Jorge Posada singled with two outs in the fifth.
The only other one he allowed came when Brett Gardner singled to lead off the sixth.
That led to the Yankees' only real chance to score, as Gardner stole second four pitches into Jeter's at-bat. But Jeter struck out, and neither Nick Swisher nor Mark Teixeira could get the ball out of the infield, both grounding out.
"I do the same thing every game," Lee said. "I'm going to throw strikes, and I'm going to throw fastballs in and out and see how they swing and I'm going to make adjustments on the fly."
How good was he? Asked how much it might cost now to re-sign the free-agent-to-be, Ryan paid what is essentially the ultimate compliment.
"Go next door and ask them," he said. "I think he's got their attention now."
Marc Topkin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.