Cliff Lee remained undefeated in postseason play, pitching the Texas Rangers to a 5-1 win against the Tampa Bay Rays and into the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees.
Lee improved to 6-0 in seven career playoff starts by throwing a six-hitter with 11 strikeouts last night in the decisive fifth game of their AL Division Series at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Lee’s victory was a historic one for the Rangers, who had been the only current Major League Baseball franchise to not win a postseason series.
“It was a lot of fun,” Lee said in a televised interview. “It was competition at the finest: Game 5 against an unbelievable team and we were able to pull it off.”
Texas next faces the defending World Series-champion Yankees in the best-of-seven ALCS, which starts Oct. 15 in Arlington, Texas. Before this season, the Rangers’ only postseason appearances were first-round losses to the Yankees in 1996, 1998 and 1999.
“I’m very excited,” Rangers centerfielder Josh Hamilton said. “We’ve always lost in the first round to the Yankees, so it’s kind of bittersweet to get to the American League championship against those guys.”
The National League Championship Series starts Oct. 16, when the Philadelphia Phillies host the San Francisco Giants. The winners of each league’s championship series advance to the World Series.
In baseball’s first Game 5 of a division series since 2005, the Rangers grabbed the lead with a mix of aggressive baserunning and Lee’s dominance on the mound. Ian Kinsler then sealed the victory with a two-run home run in the ninth inning, his third homer in five games.
It was the first postseason series in major league history in which the road team won every game.
Texas won the first two games at Tropicana Field and then lost two in a row at home before last night’s victory. The AL West-champion Rangers are the first team to win three road games in a postseason series since the 2005 Chicago White Sox.
Lee is the third starting pitcher to win his first six postseason decisions and the first since Orlando Hernandez, who won a record eight straight with the New York Yankees from 1998-2000. Orel Hershiser won his first seven postseason decisions, while Lefty Gomez also won six from 1932-38.
Acquired by the Rangers in a July trade with the Seattle Mariners, Lee beat Rays ace David Price for the second time in the series. Price, also the losing pitcher in Game 1, allowed three runs on eight hits in six innings. Price never had consecutive losses during the regular season, when he went 19-6 for a Tampa Bay team that led the AL with 96 wins.
Lee’s 1.44 ERA
Lee, who was 4-0 in the playoffs for the Phillies in 2009, lowered his postseason earned run average to 1.44. It’s the fifth-lowest ERA for a pitcher with at least five postseason starts, trailing Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, Eddie Plank and Wild Bill Hallahan.
“When you get to the postseason, it’s the best of the best,” Lee said. “It’s when you either rise to the occasion or crumble under the pressure. I hope I continue to perform my best in these situations.”
Elvis Andrus used his speed to give the Rangers an early 1-0 lead, leading off the game with a single and then stealing second base. When Hamilton hit a ground ball toward first with one out, Andrus took off for third base and kept running.
Price took the throw at first base with his back to Andrus, who raced toward home plate and scored without a throw.
After the Rays tied the game in the bottom of the third with three one-out singles off Lee, aggressive base-running put Texas back in front the next inning. Nelson Cruz hit a two-out double, stole third and came home standing up when the throw by Tampa Bay catcher John Jaso sailed into left field.
‘Spring Training Mistakes’
The Rangers pushed across a third run when the Rays failed to turn a double play in the sixth inning.
With runners on first and second and one out, Kinsler hit a ground ball to first base. While Tampa Bay got the lead runner out, Kinsler was ruled safe at first and Price, who was covering first, turned briefly to dispute the call. Vladimir Guerrero kept running from second base and slid headfirst into home plate just ahead of Price’s throw.
“We made too many spring training mistakes, things that you cover from the very first day that came back and beat us,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said during a news conference.
In the ninth inning, Cruz singled off Tampa Bay reliever Rafael Soriano and Kinsler followed with a line-drive homer into the left-field seats.
“Kinsler’s home run there kind of sealed the deal,” said Lee, who threw 120 pitches and didn’t walk a batter. “We scrapped a couple of (runs) away, hustling on the base paths. Kinsler’s home run was a nice cushion to have going out for the last inning, for sure.”