St. Petersburg, FL (Sports Network) – Cliff Lee fanned 11 batters in a complete game effort and the Texas Rangers won a postseason set for the first time in franchise history, beating Tampa Bay, 5-1, in the deciding Game 5 of their American League Division Series.
Ian Kinsler had three hits, including a two-run homer in the ninth inning, and drove in three runs for the Rangers, who will host the defending World Series champion New York Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday, one night before the Philadelphia Phillies welcome San Francisco in the opener of the NLCS.
Lee (2-0) allowed six hits, didn’t walk a batter and retired the final nine men he faced, the last of which was a pop-up off the bat of B.J. Upton to shortstop Elvis Andrus to set off a wild celebration. The Game 1 winner, Lee tied a Division Series record with 21 strikeouts, helping the Rangers become the first team in history to win three road games in any best-of-five series. In fact, this was the first time in baseball postseason history in which the road team won every game.
It was another sparkling performance for Lee, who logged his third career playoff complete game, with two coming last year with the Phillies. The lefty has gone 6-0 in his first seven career postseason starts, with his teams winning all seven of those contests. He’s got a 1.44 ERA in the postseason.
In the playoffs for just the fourth time in their history, the Rangers will try to reverse their postseason curse against the Yankees, the wild card participants this year. Texas’ previous three times in the playoffs ended with defeats to New York. Since winning the opener of the 1996 Division Series, the Rangers have lost nine straight playoff games to the Yankees.
David Price (0-2), the loser in the matchup vs. Lee in the series opener, was charged with eight hits and three runs while fanning six over six innings in Game 5.
Jason Bartlett had three hits and Ben Zobrist was credited with the lone RBI for the Rays, who failed in their attempt to get back to the World Series for the second time in three years.
Sloppy play allowed the Rangers to move ahead for good in the fourth. Nelson Cruz doubled to left-center with two outs and then broke for third base on a steal attempt. Kelly Shoppach’s throw sailed into left field, giving Texas a 2-1 edge.
As has been the case in these playoffs, another blown call helped the Rangers pad their lead in the sixth.
Vladimir Guerrero and Cruz singled with one out. Kinsler then grounded a potential double-play ball. Carlos Pena threw to second base for the force, but Bartlett’s throw to Price covering was ruled a bit late, even though replays showed Kinsler was out. Guerrero never stopped running and Price’s throw home was barely late with Guerrero using his left hand to swipe the plate ahead of Shoppach’s tag attempt.
Lee retired the side in order in the sixth, but Upton singled and stole second with nobody out in the seventh. Lee, though, fanned two of the next three batters, including Sean Rodriguez to end the inning.
The Rays went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eighth, and the Rangers padded their lead in the ninth against Rafael Soriano. Cruz singled up the middle and Kinsler followed by crushing an 0-1 pitch over the wall in left field.
The Rangers broke on top in the first inning thanks in a part to a mental lapse by the Rays. Andrus singled to start the frame and stole second with one out. Josh Hamilton then grounded out with first baseman Pena nonchalantly flipping the ball to a covering Price at first base. However, just like Guerrero, Andrus never stopped running and scored without a throw to the plate.
Bengie Molina singled in the top of the third and had a rare steal later in the frame, but Michael Young flied out to end the threat.
The Rays manufactured a run in the third. Rodriguez and Bartlett singled with one out. Zobrist then hit a sinking liner to center field. Hamilton’s throw to the plate was well off target, up the first base line and to the backstop, as Rodriguez scored. Carl Crawford was up next and tapped a ball to Lee, and Bartlett was caught in a rundown and was barely tagged out. Evan Longoria grounded out to finish the inning.
Before Tuesday, the last team to win three road games in a postseason series was the 2005 Chicago White Sox, which won games 3-4-5 of the 2005 ALCS in Anaheim to take the series 4-games-to-1…The Rangers became the last of the current MLB teams to win a postseason series…Texas and New York split eight games during the 2010 regular season…Lee, who threw 90 of his 120 pitches for strikes, tied the Division Series strikeouts record set by Kevin Brown of the Padres in 1998.