(Sports Network) – The Texas Rangers are in the American League Championship Series for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately, though, they face the team that has ended all three of their previous postseason runs in the defending World Series champion New York Yankees.
In the playoffs for just the fourth time in their history, the AL West champion Rangers will try to reverse their postseason curse against the Yankees. Since winning the opener of the 1996 Division Series, the Rangers have lost nine straight playoff games to the Yankees, also covering 1998 and 1999.
“That doesn’t matter, because we are a different team,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “We feel we can play baseball with anybody. We will show up and play our best against the very best, which is the Yankees. We can only blaze our own trail. Every time we do something good, it only adds to the history of the Texas Rangers.”
The Rangers rode the left arm of Cliff Lee in a decisive ALDS fifth game to get past Tampa Bay and win a postseason series for the first time on Tuesday.
“We needed Cliff Lee to do what he did, we certainly did, and we certainly played the type of baseball that we’re capable of playing,” Washington said. “Every part of the game that you can think of, we did. We ran the bases, we pitched, we played defense, and at the end we showed some power.”
Lee tied a Division Series record with 21 strikeouts over two starts, 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. However with the two home losses to Tampa Bay, Texas is now 0-6 all-time at home in the postseason.
Because of his Game 5 start, Lee won’t pitch until Game 3 of this series, which will take place on Monday in New York.
So, instead of Lee in Game 1, the Rangers will turn to another left-hander in C.J. Wilson, who scattered just two hits over 6 1/3 scoreless innings to win Game 2 of the ALDS.
“When you’re a little kid and you’re in your backyard, you’re taking … dry swings or pretending that when you’re in the mirror … that you’re somebody or whatever, you put yourself in this position,” Wilson said. “You put yourself in Game 1, Game 7, Championship Series, World Series, stuff like that. That’s what you work for. Every mile I’ve run, my entire life, and every little tubing exercise and sinker I’ve thrown playing catch, is everything I’ve done to get to this point. That’s great, but we still have more games after Game 1.”
Wilson was a pleasant surprise for Texas this season, transitioning from reliever to starter and going 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA. However, he has struggled mightily in his career against the Yankees, going 0-3 with a 4.12 ERA in 20 games (three starts) against them.
New York, meanwhile, stumbled into the postseason as the AL Wild Card, but continued to be a thorn in the side of the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS, as the Yankees swept them to advance to their second straight ALCS.
“We’re a very confident team,” Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. “When you have veterans that have won championships … it’s the same team we had last year, a few different guys here and there. Hopefully they’re going to have the same ride as we had last year.”
Tonight, New York gives the ball to left-hander CC Sabathia, who has started each of the Yankees’ previous four playoff series and is the reigning ALCS MVP.
“I don’t know [if there are any challenges to opening on the road],” Sabathia said. “I mean, I don’t feel any different.”
Sabathia, though, was the worst of the three Yankees starters in the Division Series, as he allowed four runs (three earned) and five hits in six innings to the Twins, but still picked up the win.
“You can’t just sit down and relax and say, ‘Oh, CC’s pitching, we will be fine,” said Yankees captain Derek Jeter. “They have a guy [in lefty C.J. Wilson] who is capable of shutting guys down as well. We all have jobs to do, but we have a lot of confidence in [Sabathia].”
He is 8-3 in 14 starts against the Rangers with a 4.29 ERA.
New York has won in eight of its last nine ALCS appearances, and, of course, is shooting for its 41st AL Pennant and 28th World Series title.
The Yankees and Rangers split eight games during the regular season.