Lee, Rangers top Rays
Texas wins first postseason series
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Cliff Lee added another impressive line to his growing October résumé, putting the Texas Rangers on his back and carrying them into the AL Championship Series for the first time.
Lee tossed another postseason gem and Texas won a playoff series for the first time, beating the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-1, last night in Game 5 on the legs of some daring base running.
Lee struck out 11 in a six-hitter for his second win over Rays ace David Price in a series in which the road team won every game — a first in major league history.
“It was a lot of fun, I know that much,’’ Lee said. “We had our back against the wall today and we came out and performed.’’
The Rangers will host the wild-card New York Yankees in the opener of the best-of-seven ALCS Friday night. Texas’s previous three playoff appearances ended with first-round losses to New York, in 1996, ’98, and ’99.
Ian Kinsler hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning for Texas, which had been the only active major league franchise that hadn’t won a playoff series.
Lee improved to 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA and three complete games in seven career postseason starts, striking out 54 and walking six in 56 1/3 innings.
The lefthander, acquired from Seattle in July, threw 120 pitches and walked none. He retired his final nine batters and prevented Tampa Bay from completing an improbable comeback after losing the first two games at home.
When B.J. Upton popped to shortstop for the final out, Lee didn’t even watch the ball drop into Elvis Andrus’s glove. He simply walked toward catcher Bengie Molina and the two hugged as Rangers players poured onto the field to mob Lee near the plate.
A pair of Rangers runners scored from second base on infield grounders — thanks to heads-up base running by Andrus and Vladimir Guerrero.
Lee fanned Rays slugger Carlos Pena six of the seven times he faced him in the series, and finished with an AL Division Series record 21 K’s in two games.
Texas pitchers struck out 55 in the five games, a record for a Division Series.
Jason Bartlett had three hits off Lee, but the Rays went 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position, with that hit being Ben Zobrist’s RBI single that tied it, 1-1, in the third.
Price, a 19-game winner in his first full season in the majors, allowed three runs and eight hits in six innings. The Rangers hurt him with two long home runs in Game 1, but did much of their damage this time on ground balls that forced him to cover first.
“David pitched fine. We made too many mistakes — spring training mistakes,’’ Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
The Rangers gave Lee an early 1-0 lead, catching the Rays napping after Andrus led off the game with a single and stole second. Price coaxed Hamilton into hitting a grounder to first, and Andrus — running on the pitch — scored from second when Pena flipped the ball to Price covering the bag and the pitcher didn’t turn to check on Andrus.
Texas remained aggressive on the bases. The slow-footed Molina singled and stole second on a full-count pitch in the third, his first steal since 2006.
In the fourth, Nelson Cruz doubled off the wall in the deepest part of the ballpark — narrowly missing his fourth homer of the series. He put the Rangers ahead 2-1 when he stole third — with two outs — and continued home on a throwing error by catcher Kelly Shoppach.
An alert play by Guerrero gave the Rangers another run for a 3-1 lead in the sixth.
With runners at first and second and one out, Kinsler hit a grounder to Pena. The first baseman fielded the ball and threw to second for a force out, but the relay to Price covering first was not in time for an inning-ending double play.
Guerrero took off for home, surprising Price, who looked at the umpire for a call, and slid across the plate headfirst to avoid the tag by Shoppach.
Tarps from the upper deck at Tropicana Field were removed, boosting capacity in the domed stadium by about 5,000 seats — some with obstructed views, for a sellout of 41,845.