ARLINGTON, Texas - The New York Yankees avoid Cliff Lee until Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. In today's opener, they instead face another Texas Rangers left-hander who has been greatly influenced by the postseason ace in their short time together.
“Before he was here, I was actually a right-handed second baseman,” C.J. Wilson joked Thursday.
Because Lee, who started the season with the Mariners, had to pitch a deciding Game 5 in the division series against Tampa Bay, Wilson starts Game 1 against New York and lefty CC Sabathia at 5 p.m. at Rangers Ballpark.
Wilson already was making an impressive transition from reliever in his long-desired chance to be a Rangers starter again before Texas acquired Lee on July 9. But Wilson immediately began watching his new teammate and asking questions.
“The thing with Cliff is that he keeps his process the same no matter what is going on around him,” Wilson said. “As I’ve gotten more comfortable in my role as a starting pitcher, I’ve had to thicken those walls in my bubble to keep everything else out and stay in my little zone and stay with what is making me successful. And that’s the thing he and I talk about all the time.”
Wilson won 15 games in the regular season, then followed Lee’s spectacular Game 1 start in the first round with a gem of his own, allowing two hits in 6 scoreless innings. But after winning those games at Tampa Bay, the Rangers lost both at home and had to go back to Florida for the deciding game with Lee back on the mound Tuesday night.
Now that the Rangers have finally won a postseason series for the first time, they get to play New York, which has won 27 World Series titles and 40 pennants.
The Yankees, who haven’t played since wrapping up a three-game sweep over Minnesota on Saturday night, have a nine-game postseason winning streak against Texas. New York knocked the Rangers out of the playoffs in their only three previous appearances between 1996 and 1999.
“You do worry about not playing for six days,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who celebrated his 46th birthday Thursday. “Hopefully, they won’t be rusty and they will come out and the rest actually did them good.”
This is the first time the Rangers open a postseason series at home. They still have never won a playoff game at Rangers Ballpark, going 0-6 including the two losses last weekend to the Rays.
Lee won both of his World Series starts for Philadelphia last year, including a six-hitter at Yankee Stadium when he struck out 10 and gave up only an unearned run. New York won the other four games.
The Yankees avoid facing Lee twice only if this series ends in fewer than seven games. Lee is 6-1 in his last eight starts against them, postseason included, going 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA and two complete games in his past four starts in New York.
For Game 1 of this series, Lee’s biggest effect will be his influence on Wilson.
“I’m not a guy that pushes a bunch of information on anybody, but he’s definitely a guy that knows how to pitch,” Lee said. “We’ve shared information, ideas on how to pitch guys, what to do with certain things. Definitely, it’s not very often you see a guy go from the bullpen to the starting rotation and do the things he has. A lot of credit goes to his talents and just his stuff. He knows how to pitch.”
Wilson was primarily a starter in the minor leagues and missed all of 2004 recovering from ligament transplant surgery.
After being called up by the Rangers for the first time in 2005, he was 0-5 with a 12.05 ERA in six starts. But in 18 appearances out of the bullpen his rookie season, he had a 2.73 ERA and Texas continued to utilize him as a reliever, even opening the 2008 season with him as the closer.
TOday: New York (Sabathia 21-7) at Texas (Wilson 15-8), 5:07 p.m., TBS
Saturday: New York (Hughes 18-8) at Texas (Lewis 12-13), 1:07 p.m., TBS
Monday: Texas (Lee 12-9) at New York (Pettitte 11-3), 5:07 p.m
Tuesday: Texas (Hunter 13-4) at New York (Burnett 10-15), 5:07 p.m.
Wednesday: Texas at New York, 1:07 p.m., if necessary
Oct. 22: New York at Texas, 5:07 p.m., if necessary
Oct. 23: New York at Texas, 5:07 p.m., if necessary