ARLINGTON, Texas -- Kenneth Dobbins got up Saturday morning, put his wife and two children in the car, and drove 240 miles from his home in Arkansas for one purpose: to see Cliff Lee's debut in a Texas Rangers uniform.
"He might throw a complete game or something better," Dobbins said. "I had to be here for this. He's one of the best in the game."
There's little doubt about that, as his postseason record and 2008 Cy Young Award show. But he didn't look like his usual dominating self Saturday in what several Rangers described as an odd game.
Lee allowed six runs on nine hits yet managed to go nine innings on just 95 pitches in a 6-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, owners of the worst record in the majors. He gave up three home runs -- he came in with five allowed all year -- despite no typical jet stream at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
"They were super aggressive," said Lee, who wore a brand-new gray Texas T-shirt as he spoke to a large media contingent at his locker after the game. "I need to do a better job of getting the ball down and out of the heart of the plate a little bit. It was a good game plan on their part. They came out swinging early. They know I throw strikes, and usually that works to my advantage, but tonight it worked in their favor."
Lee did a few things the Rangers need from him on a regular basis: He pitched efficiently and quickly and consequently went deep in the game to save the bullpen. Texas' relievers had been shouldering a big workload recently, and Lee, despite not having his best game, allowed them to sit back and take a break as he threw a complete game in a contest that lasted just 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Turns out, Lee would have needed to be next to perfect to have a chance to win the game. The Rangers' bats, something he mentioned he was excited about in joining Texas, were missing. The Rangers had four hits total and just two of them off Baltimore's Chris Tillman, who looked, well, more like Cliff Lee than Lee did. Tillman went 7 1/3 innings and allowed one unearned run.
It certainly wasn't the kind of run support that Lee expects to have the rest of the season.
"This is a powerful offense," Lee said. "From top to bottom, they've got guys that can really swing the bat. I've know that for a while. Every year we come in here, you have to be careful against this offense. If you make mistakes, they've got big, strong guys that can drive the ball. It's going to be nice to be on this side of it."
Lee said he had a hectic 24 hours getting from Seattle to Texas. He arrived around 12:30 a.m. and tried to get some sleep to prepare for his start. But he added that the schedule had nothing to do with his performance.
He also downplayed any concerns about his career numbers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, which actually got a little better with six earned runs. Lee's career ERA at the park is 7.33 (down from 7.62). He's 4-4 in eight starts, and opponents have batted .302 against him with seven homers. Of course, until tonight, that opponent was the Rangers.
"It's a hitters' park; there's no denying that," Lee said. "But most of that has to do with the guys swinging the bat here."
Lee said that maybe two of the three home run balls would not have gone out at Safeco Field in Seattle.
"It's a different dimension and weather here," Lee said. "The ball travels further. I can't change that. I've got to make do with what's going on here and do a better job of keeping the ball down and try to induce more ground balls."
The game left the crowd of 41,093 with little to cheer about after the club honored Michael Young in a pregame ceremony for becoming the all-time hits leader in franchise history, something he did last month.
But Lee's mere presence had the ticket windows humming. Dobbins, a 41-year-old truck company owner, wasn't the only one standing in the heat to buy tickets nearly 5½ hours before Saturday's game. There were 14,300 walkup ticket sales Saturday, a new record for any game at the ballpark, which opened in 1994.
Not since club president Nolan Ryan was firing fastballs and no-hitters in Arlington in the early 1990s has a Rangers pitcher created so much buzz. When Ryan pitched, longtime PA announcer and club official Chuck Morgan remembers, the organization counted on 8,000 to 12,000 walkups at the park. It sure appears Lee will have the same impact for the next 2½ months after the boost in sales Saturday.
Fans cheered him as he went on the field for warm-ups and flashbulbs flickered as he went into his windup in the first inning.
"It was an electric atmosphere," Lee said. "They got the lead early and never lost it, and that kind of kills that a little bit. I wish I could have kept it 0-0 for a little while and let our offense get going."
The loss did nothing to diminish how Lee's new teammates feel about the club's acquisition.
"Cliff showed exactly what he's capable of doing," Young said. "He throws nine innings, a complete game. You know he had to be tired from the travel and what's been going on the last couple of days. He showed what he's capable of giving us. I'm pretty sure we're going to give him a little more than four hits. I think we're all excited about what we have."
Matt Treanor, who caught Lee's game Saturday, said he saw the same pitcher he's faced at times when he's had to stand in the batter's box.
"He had good tempo, used all of his pitches and used both sides of the plate," Treanor said. "It was a weird game. Nearly every hit accounted for a run. But he's going to be a huge asset for our club. He threw just 22 balls overall and 95 pitches. That's an outstanding effort. That's quality. We're a better offensive club than what we showed. That type of performance warrants less runs. He's got a lot in him, and I think it's going to be outstanding."