Commentary

Rangers exude contender's confidence

Cliff Lee and Nelson Cruz put the Rangers' swagger on full display against the A's

Updated: July 28, 2010, 2:41 AM ET
By Richard Durrett | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- There's a certain amount of confidence, even a swagger, teams contending for championships develop.

You could see that from this Rangers club in Tuesday night's dramatic, 10-inning, 3-1 victory.

Vladimir Guerrero showed it, ending a nine-game RBI drought with a hard-hit double to drive in Michael Young in the first. Third-base coach Dave Anderson showed it, too, sending Young with two outs and Josh Hamilton on deck, figuring Young could make it on a close play. Young's dive, right around catcher Kurt Suzuki, made him rush his tag and drop the ball to give the Rangers an early lead.

[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
AP Photo/Mike FuentesCliff Lee is now one of just a handful of pitchers since 1920 with eight consecutive starts of eight-plus innings with one walk or fewer.

Cliff Lee personified that confidence. He fired fastballs on the inside and outside of the plate, expanding the strike zone and leaving the A's hitters baffled. He amassed a career-high 13 strikeouts in the process and went nine innings, leaving the mound in a 1-1 game. But Lee also had the swagger to stand up to his stubborn manager and ask him to leave him in the game with two outs in the ninth.

Ron Washington went to the mound planning on bringing in closer Neftali Feliz with one on and two outs in the ninth.

"I said, 'Is there any way I can talk you out of it?'" Lee said. "He said, 'You want this guy?'"

Lee said yes, and Washington replied: "Go get him."

It's the first time this season that Washington has gone to the mound and not made a pitching change. Washington sensed Lee's confidence and left him in.

Lee rewarded him, getting the out and keeping the score tied. Lee makes it look so easy. He's pitched at least eight innings in eight straight starts, including four with Texas, and does it quickly and impressively.

"It was just another well-pitched game for Cliff Lee," Washington said. "He just keeps doing it."

The other thing swagger does is allow you to move on from mistakes quickly. Previous Rangers teams might not have recovered from a ragged sixth inning. With the score 1-0 and two outs, Coco Crisp broke for second base. Bengie Molina hopped up and fired a good throw that nearly hit the second-base bag. But no one covered the bag to receive the throw. The ball bounced into center field, and Crisp scampered to third. The next batter, Suzuki, got an RBI single to tie the score. The bottom of that inning, the Rangers went down quietly in order.

Lee, though, didn't get rattled. He kept getting batters out and kept watching his offense fail to come through in scoring situations.

"That's out of my control," Lee said. "My job is to keep the team in it, get as deep as I can and give the team a chance. I feel like I've done that. We have an unbelievable offense, and at any point they can bust out for four or five runs an inning."

That hasn't happened yet for Lee in a Rangers uniform. The vaunted offense he hoped to play behind has scored seven runs in 35 1/3 innings for him.

"We'd like to get four or five and let him do his thing with a cushion, but it hasn't worked out that way," Young said. "It makes his starts even more important because he's keeping us in it and we need to find a way to win those games."

Exactly. The Cliff Lee gun has only so many bullets. The Rangers are reloading it every five days to get as much out of it as they can before the season ends. So when there's a close game and Lee is blistering the opponent, the Rangers need to take advantage.

They did on Tuesday as Nelson Cruz make good on a bold prediction. There's that swagger again. Cruz's message to some of his teammates in the dugout before the 10th inning: "I'm going to do something special." He did, crushing a slider into the seats in left field for a walk-off homer and pointing to the dugout, with a knowing smile.

It might not have been the Angels and a sellout crowd Tuesday, but the loud 28,124 fans in attendance seemed to grasp the importance. The Rangers have to win as many games as they can with Lee on the mound. That becomes even more critical when it's divisional opponents. Tuesday had that feel. And in another sign of the maturation of this club, it came through with a win.

Of course, contending teams also find a way to have fun. That's no problem in this clubhouse. Cruz got the ceremonial beer shower after the win. He also got a shaving-cream pie -- gently, so as to avoid the injury that plagued the Marlins on Sunday -- and he did his fair share of claw signs, given out by the players for a big hit.

"We have fun here, but we know what we have to do out there," Cruz said. "We just have to keep going now."

Their confidence and swagger should help with that.

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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