(Sports Network) – The Tampa Bay Rays attempt to become just the second team to win a a best-of-five American League Division Series after losing the first two games at home, as they try to advance to the ALCS this evening in a decisive Game 5 against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field.
The Rays will have their work cut out for them tonight, though, as they face left-hander Cliff Lee, who silenced Tampa’s bats in Game 1. Lee gave up a run and five hits in seven innings last Wednesday and struck out 10 in his team’s 5-1 triumph.
“This is why we got him, for this type of game,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “I certainly feel great about what’s about to happen when we get to Tampa. We couldn’t have a better guy on the mound.”
Lee, of course, was 4-0 in last year’s playoffs with a 1.56 ERA in five starts with the Phillies and his 1.52 overall ERA in his six postseason starts is fifth-lowest in major league history for a pitcher with at least five starts. Three of the four pitchers ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame.
Sandy Koufax tops the short list with a 0.95 ERA, followed by Christy Mathewson (1.06), Eddie Plank (1.32) and “Wild” Bill Hallahan (1.36). After that come Lee and Mickey Lolich, with 1.52 ERAs.
“We’re in the playoffs,” Lee said. “It’s down to one game to decide whether we move on. This is exactly where I would want to be, in a situation like this. I had no control or choice on the matter, but to end up here and to end up in a 2-2 series, playing the last game — it is win or go home at this point. It is playoff baseball at its best.”
However, Lee will be facing a Rays lineup tonight that has all the momentum right now.
After managing just one run in dropping the first two games in St. Pete, Tampa Bay found its offense over the weekend in Arlington, as the Rays took both games from the Rangers to even the set and force the first deciding Division Series game since the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim beat the New York Yankees back in 2005.
In the four instances when a 2-0 lead in the division series was pushed to a decisive tilt, the winner of Games 3 and 4 advanced to the League Championship Series, though only the 2001 Yankees accomplished the feat after losing the first two at home.
The 2003 Boston Red Sox were the last team to overcome an 0-2 deficit in the Division Series.
Should the Rangers win tonight, not only would it be their first-ever postseason series win, but it would mark the first time that the road team has won all five games since the inception of the Division Series in 1995.
Hoping to pitch the Rays to their second ALCS appearance in three years this evening will by lefty David Price, who attempts to make up for a poor effort against Lee and the Rangers in Game 1. Price surrendered five runs (four earned) and nine hits in 6 2/3 innings pitched.
“Obviously, I don’t want to have to pitch against a guy like Cliff Lee every time,” said Price. “But it’s fun — it is. This is what you grow up as little kids seeing, growing up watching all the games, the postseason games and World Series games, and you see matchups like this. Now that I get to be a part of one, I need to kind of grasp it and take control of it and give us a chance to win.”
Price, who pitched in relief in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS against Boston, had been 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA in the regular season, including a terrific September that saw him go 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA.
“Who else would we want taking the mound than Pricey? We’re really excited; we’re really excited to be in this position,” said Rays first baseman Carlos Pena. “I think it should be a lot of fun.”
Tampa won all three of its matchups with the Rangers at the Trop in the regular season.
Tonight’s winner will host the New York Yankees in the ALCS with Game 1 starting on Friday. The Yankees advanced on Saturday with a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins.