ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Cliff Lee added another impressive line to his growing October resume, putting the Texas Rangers on his back and carrying them into the AL championship series for the first time.
Lee tossed another postseason gem and Texas won a playoff series for the first time, beating the Tampa Bay Rays 5-1 last night in a decisive Game 5 on the legs of some daring baserunning.
Lee struck out 11 in a six-hitter for his second win over Rays ace David Price in a series in which the road team won every game — a first in major league history.
“It was a lot of fun, I know that much,” Lee said. “We had our back against the wall today and we came out and performed.”
The Rangers will host the wild-card New York Yankees in the opener of the best-of-seven ALCS on Friday night. Texas' previous three playoff appearances ended with first-round losses to New York, in 1996, 1998 and 1999.
The teams split eight games during the regular season, with the Rangers winning the final four.
“They're a great team and that's why they are where they are,” Lee said. “They're going to be a good challenge, just like these guys.”
Ian Kinsler hit a two-run homer in the ninth inning for Texas, which had been the only active major league franchise that hadn't won a playoff series.
Lee improved to 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA and three complete games in seven career postseason starts, striking out 54 and walking six in 56 1/3 innings.
The left-hander, acquired from Seattle in July, threw 120 pitches and walked none. He retired his final nine batters and prevented Tampa Bay from completing an improbable comeback after losing the first two games at home.
When B.J. Upton popped out to shortstop for the final out, Lee didn't even watch the ball drop into Elvis Andrus' glove. He simply walked toward catcher Bengie Molina and the two hugged as Rangers players poured onto the field to mob Lee near the plate.
The Rays had the AL's best record this season, giving them home-field advantage in the playoffs. But they lost all three games at Tropicana Field, managing only two runs in the process.
“David pitched fine. We made too many mistakes — spring training mistakes,” rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I want to congratulate the Rangers. Spectacular achievement they put forth this season.”
The Rangers said it's the first time the road team has won every game in a postseason series, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
This also was the first time a division series went the full five games since the Los Angeles Angels beat the New York Yankees in 2005.
It's the first playoff series victory in the 50-season history of the Washington/Texas franchise.