Lee's postseason prowess inspires confidence
Lefty takes career 5-0 playoff mark into Game 5 for Rangers
ARLINGTON -- The legend that left-hander Cliff Lee has built for himself during the past two postseasons as one of the game's premier big-game pitchers gives the Rangers every reason to expect their season to reach the next round of the playoffs.
"We have ton of confidence in Cliff," third baseman Michael Young said. "He's been there, done that and won't be fazed by all that."
Young was referring to Tuesday night's pressure-packed, winner-take-all finale in the best-of-five American League Division Series against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
"This is why we got him, for this type of game," Rangers manager Ron Washington said after Sunday's 5-2 loss in Game 4 at the Ballpark in Arlington. "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 beat the Rays, 5-1, in Game 1, giving him a record of 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA in six postseason starts. That's the fifth-lowest ERA 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.
"He has great postseason numbers, and Cliff, he is a warrior," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said. "He will go out there and battle pitch-for-pitch with whoever is on the mound against him."
Lee is also 3-0 with a 0.72 ERA in three starts in Game 1 of a series, but none of his six postseason starts has been in the finale of a five- or seven-game series.
The momentum has shifted strangely so far in the series, with both teams winning two games on the road.
The Rangers are counting on the trend to continue and have Lee lead the way. But he needs the Texas bats to start producing earlier than they did at home.
"We're in the playoffs," he 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."
The so-called hired gun has one more shot to get the Rangers beyond the first round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Rays vs. Cliff Lee
"I don't know if I have to set the tone," Lee said. "Hopefully, our offense sets the tone in the top of the first inning. That would be nice.
"I mean, it's not up to me to set the tone, it is up to our team to play as one unit and everybody contribute and everybody to carry their weight. If we do that, good things will happen. I don't feel like it is up to me to set any tone."
He said he job is to minimize the damage against the other team and "give our offense a chance to get back in the dugout and score runs."
Lee pitched out of trouble in the first inning of Game 1, leaving the bases loaded, clicked into cruise control shortly afterward and tossed seven innings in the Rangers' victory.
What's his plan for Tuesday?
"I will make the exact same pitches the whole game, the same sequences the whole time," he quipped. "No, I really don't know. I am really a guy that goes out there and makes pitches and sees how the hitter swings at them and makes adjustments on the fly.
"Obviously, I will have a game plan and what I did last time, a lot of that worked. So they will have to prove to me that they are making adjustments before I will make a big adjustment. That's how I have always pitched.
"I will make pitches and see how they swing at them and try to make adjustments with that. ... I do the same thing every time. It's up to the hitter to tell me how to make an adjustment."
On the other hand, the Rays plan to revisit other games than their playoff clash.
"I think what we have to do is just remember that we've had good success against him, not in the postseason, and try to take that into this next game," Longoria said.
The third baseman also noted that most of these Rays played in a Game 7 against the Red Sox in 2008.
"That's another experience we can draw from," he said, "and hopefully use to our advantage to win the game."
But the Rangers have other plans.
"Cliff has pitched extremely well for us," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "He's the perfect guy to have on the mound in the last game of a series. It should be fun."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.