Three days after the Yankees swept the Twins out the ALDS, we finally know who their opponent will be in the ALCS. The Cliff Lee led Rangers topped the Rays in the decisive Game Five of their series on Tuesday night, making it the first time in history that the home team lost every game of an LDS. It’s also the first time the Rangers’ franchise has won a playoff series, something they’ve waited 49 years to do (if you go back to their Washington Senators days).
Lee was masterful and the story of the game as you’d expect, tossing a complete game six hitter while allowing just one run. He struck out eleven and walked none, throwing a season high 120 pitches in the process. Tampa batters got nothing but fastballs and cutters the first time through the order, and before they could adjust Lee broke out the curveball the next time through and kept everyone guessing right down to the final out. There have now been seven games in playoff history where a pitcher has gone at least seven innings with ten or more strikeouts and zero walks, and Lee’s done it four times. That’s pretty nuts.
The Rangers gave the Rays a little dose of their own medicine offensively, taking advantage of defensive miscues while on the bases before padding the lead with a late homer. Elvis Andrus caught David Price napping at first after a Josh Hamilton ground out, scoring from second on the play. Nelson Cruz attempted to steal third after a booming double in the fourth, but Kelly Shoppach threw the ball into the outfield and allowed the run to score. Vlad Guerrero pulled an Andrus in the sixth, scoring on a grounder to second all the way from second. Ian Kinsler capped the scoring with a two-run shot off Rafael Soriano in the ninth, his third jack of the series. The final score was 5-1, and the WPA graph was pretty uneventful for a big game.
So now the Yanks know who they’ll face when the ALCS starts (in Texas) on Friday. Lee won’t be able to start until Game Three of that series, so it’s important for New York to jump ahead during the first two games. They don’t want to split the first two and essentially turn it into a best-of-five series with Lee scheduled to start the makeshift Game One, and they definitely don’t want to be down two games to none without having faced the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner yet.
The Yankees are certainly no stranger to Lee, facing him five times in the last calendar year. They lost to him twice in the World Series last fall (though they did beat a Phillies team in that series that was much stronger than this Rangers’ team) then two more times in his three regular season starts against them this season. Hopefully the familiarity helps the Yanks, but I suspect it’s not going to matter. If Lee is throwing all of his pitches to both sides of the plate like he did tonight, there’s no lineup in the world that could hit him. That said, he’ll only be able to start two of the seven potential games in the ALCS, so don’t panic.
RAB readers voted overwhelmingly in favor of a Yankees-Rangers ALCS, so you guys got what you wanted. Now we just have to sit and wait for this thing to start, and hope the Yanks start that series the same way they ended the last one, firing on cylinders and getting great starting pitching. We’ll be sure to preview the hell out of the ALCS, but for now just sit back and enjoy the remaining days off, because we all know the nerves will shoot up once the games start.