ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Cliff Lee added another impressive line to his growing October résumé, carrying the Texas Rangers into their first AL championship series.
Lee tossed another postseason gem and Texas won a playoff series for the first time, beating the Tampa Bay Rays, 5-1, on Tuesday 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’ three previous playoff appearances ended with first-round losses to the Yankees, in 1996, 1998 and 1999.
The teams split eight games during the regular season, including Texas’ three-game sweep at home in September.
“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.
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 innings.
The left-hander, acquired from Seattle in July, threw 90 of his 120 pitches for strikes 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.
“He was the Cliff Lee that everybody is used to seeing and he got the job done tonight,” said Rays outfielder Carl Crawford, who might have played his last game with Tampa Bay because he can become a free agent after the World Series.
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.
“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.”
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.
A pair of Rangers runners scored from second base on infield grounders – thanks to heads-up baserunning by Andrus and Vladimir Guerrero.
Kinsler batted .444 in the series with three homers and six RBI. It was the first playoff series victory in the 50-season history of the Washington/Texas franchise.
“It’s unbelievable. Something we’re proud of because it’s never happened in Texas before,” slugger Josh Hamilton said.
“Hopefully, we can take it to the next level.”
Back in the clubhouse, the first round of celebrating was with ginger ale so that Hamilton, who has battled alcohol and drug addiction, could take part. When he left the room, the Rangers brought out champagne.
Lee won the series opener 5-1, allowing five hits and striking out 10 over seven innings. He fanned Rays slugger Carlos Peña six of the seven times he faced him in the series, and finished with an ALDS record 21 Ks in two games.
He didn’t issue a walk in the series, either.