Playoff Series: Game 1 of 5

Texas leads 3-2 (as of 10/6)

Game 1: Wednesday, October 6
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Game 2: Thursday, October 7
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Game 3: Saturday, October 9
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Game 4: Sunday, October 10
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Game 5: Tuesday, October 12
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    1:37 PM ET, October 6, 2010

    Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida 

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    W: C. Lee (1-0)

    L: D. Price (0-1)

    Cliff Lee gets homers from Bengie Molina, Nelson Cruz as Rangers win Game 1

    Associated Press

    ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Cliff Lee, postseason ace for hire.

    Picking up where he left off during in a dazzling October run a year ago, Lee shut down the Tampa Bay Rays while outpitching David Price and leading the Texas Rangers to a 5-1 victory Wednesday in the opening game of the AL playoffs.

    "I like pitching on a big stage," Lee said. "Just pitching in the big leagues alone is an honor, but when you get an opportunity to make it to the postseason that's what it's all about. That's what you play all year for. I enjoy it, and I try to have fun with it."

    These days, no pitcher is doing it better.

    Lee matched a postseason best with 10 strikeouts while allowing five hits -- just two after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the first inning. During one dominating stretch, he retired 16 of 17 batters before giving up Ben Zobrist's homer in the seventh.

    "It's not time to sit here and pat myself on the back. We've got a lot of work to do," Lee said. "I feel good about helping us get off to a good start, and hopefully I can continue to do the same. That's what I expect to do."

    Game 2 is Thursday with left-hander C.J. Wilson taking the mound for Texas against right-hander James Shields, who hasn't won since Aug. 29.

    Lee improved to 5-0 in six career postseason starts. He went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009, including 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA against the New York Yankees in the World Series.

    The 32-year-old lefty lost to the Rays three times during the regular season; however, the AL East champions were no match for the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner this time. The Rangers, in the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, stopped a nine-game postseason losing streak that began in 1996.

    Nelson Cruz and Bengie Molina homered for the AL West champions. Darren O'Day and Darren Oliver pitched the eighth, and rookie Neftali Feliz worked out of a ninth-inning jam by striking out the final two batters.

    Price, a 19-game winner, allowed five runs and nine hits in 6 2/3 innings. He struck eight and, like Lee, walked none.

    "It's very frustrating," Price said. "I wasn't at my best. It's tough to swallow."

    Lee began this season with the Seattle Mariners, who dealt him in early July to Texas, which was looking to bolster its rotation with a No. 1 starter capable of leading the Rangers deep into the postseason. Philadelphia acquired him from Cleveland during last year's run to the NL pennant, and the lefty is eligible for free agency after the season.

    The Rays beat him twice while he was with the Mariners, and once with the Rangers during Tampa Bay's three-game sweep of Texas at Tropicana Field in August.

    Tampa Bay had opportunities against Lee early, but failed to score after Jason Bartlett, Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria singled to load the bases in the first. After giving up a leadoff double to Zobrist in the second, Lee retired 12 batters in a row in front of a sellout crowd of 35,474.

    "Just locating pitches, working ahead in the count," Lee said. "When I got out of the first inning, I knew things were going to go well."

    For Tampa Bay, it was a continuation of an offensive funk that began two weeks ago. The Rays lost six of 10 games down the stretch -- all against last-place teams -- before clinching their second division title in three years on the last day of the season. They dropped five of six during part of the stretch, three by shutout.

    Texas is in the postseason for first time since 1999 and its nine-game playoff losing streak had matched Minnesota and the Chicago Cubs for the longest active skid in the major leagues. All three of the Rangers' previous playoff series were against New York, with their only other postseason victory coming against the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1996.

    "I thought the game was really kind of won or loss there in the first inning," Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "Both pitchers had their backs to the wall. Cliff got a couple big punchouts there. He gave up three hits in the first ... no hard contacts. He battled up right there and put up a huge doughnut. That was a big zero. Then we come back and we score. Momentum kind of went our way and Clifford got better as he went along."

    Price played a key role in Tampa Bay's surprising run to the World Series two years ago, coming out of the bullpen as a rookie with less than a month's experience in the majors to get the final four outs against Boston in Game 7 of the AL championship series.

    He won 19 games this season, had the AL's third-lowest ERA of 2.73, and became the youngest pitcher to start an All-Star game since Dwight Gooden in 1988. He has never beaten the Rangers, going 0-2 with a 7.45 ERA -- his highest against an AL opponent -- in four regular-season starts.

    The Rangers came out swinging.

    Jeff Francoeur hit a run-scoring double and scored on Molina's single in the second. Cruz added a 438-foot homer to straightaway center in the third. Molina connected in the fourth, and Vladimir Guerrero's double off the center-field wall on a 3-0 pitch gave Lee a five-run cushion in the fifth.

    Cruz's homer also came on a 3-0 pitch.

    "That's probably the most aggressive somebody's been against me as long as I can remember," Price said.

    Longoria returned to Tampa Bay's lineup after missing the final 10 games of the regular season with a strained left quadriceps. He singled between shortstop and third base in the first to load the bases against Lee, who escaped the jam by striking out Carlos Pena and Rocco Baldelli.

    Depending on which clubhouse you were in, Lee got some help from plate umpire Tim Welke to get out of the first, when Pena and Rays manager Joe Maddon argued that a 2-1 pitch hit Pena instead of glancing off the bat for a strike. That would have forced in a run for a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead.

    "It definitely hit something. I could hear it from the mound," Lee said. "When he did not start jumping around and didn't want to go to first base, I had a pretty good feeling it hit the bat."

    After Zobrist doubled in the second, Lee fanned two of the next three batters to strand four runners through two innings, with the Rays going 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position.

    The Rays didn't have another baserunner until B.J. Upton hit a grounder to the left of second base that shortstop Elvis Andrus failed to handle cleanly for an error.

    "We've kind of been up and down all year, and we don't let one game get to us," Upton said. "We know we have the talent and guys here to get it done. If we didn't, we wouldn't be here right now."

    Game notes

    The capacity crowd was just the sixth this year for the Rays, who ranked 22nd in the majors in attendance with an average of 23,025. ... Before Wednesday, Texas 3B Michael Young had appeared in 1,508 career games without playing in the postseason -- the second-most among active players behind St. Louis' Randy Winn (1,717).

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    Game Information

    StadiumTropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL
    Attendance35,474 (104.1% full) - % is based on regular season capacity
    Game Time3:06
    UmpiresHome Plate - Tim Welke, First Base - Jim Wolf, Second Base - Jerry Meals, Third Base - Bill Miller

    Research Notes

    LeeCliff Lee has won his first five postseason decisions, tied for the fourth-longest such win streak by a starter to start a career.
    Bengie Molina's 4th-inning home run off David Price was notable for a few reasons. In his career, Price had not allowed a home run on a pitch out of the strike zone, but the pitch Molina hit out of the park was off the plate inside. It was Molina's first home run on a pitch not in the strike zone since 2008. It was also a fastball, a pitch on which Molina had homered just once all year. For perspective, Molina saw 927 fastballs on the season and swung at 439, hitting just one home run.
    How the Rangers got to Rays starter David Price: - Price threw his fastball on 86 of 107 pitches (80.4 pct), above his season average of 74.3 pct, the second-highest mark among starting pitchers. The Rangers led all of baseball with a .297 batting average against fastballs this season, and they made Price pay. The Rangers were 8-25 against Price's fastball on Wednesday. - Eight of the Rangers' nine hits against Price were off his fastball, with the lone exception being a bunt hit by Elvis Andrus in the 6th inning. On August 16, in Price's only start against Texas this year, he threw his fastball 83 percent of the time and the Rangers hit .278 (5-18) against the pitch. - In particular, the Rangers feasted on Price's high fastballs, going 5-11 with both of their home runs.
    How Rangers starter Cliff Lee shut down the Rays: - Lee got ahead of Tampa Bay hitters, throwing a first-pitch strike to 21 of 27 hitters he faced. The Rays swung at 12 of Lee's 27 first pitches with just one hit. Tampa reached just one 2-0 count against Lee all afternoon. - Lee kept the ball out of the middle of the plate and worked the corners. Ninety of Lee's 104 pitches were judged by Inside Edge to be either inside or outside. In particular, Lee had success finding the inside corner, with 27 of his 37 (73.0 pct) of his inside pitches going for strikes, above his season average of 64.0 pct. - With two strikes, Lee worked the inside corner. Seventeen of his 36 two-strike pitches were inside, with Lee registering seven of his 10 strikeouts on those pitches. - Lee had the Rays fooled all day: six of Lee's 10 strikeouts were called, including four on inside pitches.
    Cliff Lee is the 10th pitcher in postseason history to win each of his 1st 5 decisions as a starter. Further, he's the 4th pitcher in the Live Ball Era to toss at least 7 IP in each of his 1st 6 postseason starts.
    Might as well start calling this type of start the "Cliff Lee." Last season in World Series Game 1, Cliff Lee became the 1st pitcher in 106 years to have 10 K and no walks in a Game 1 road win. Less than a year later, he does it again. The only other guy to do it was Deacon Phillippe, who started Game 1 of the World Series in 1903 at Boston. That was the 1st World Series game ever played.
    Cliff Lee goes 7 IP, while striking out 10 and walking no batters. This is the THIRD postseason game he has pitched at least 7 IP with no walks and at least 10 K. No other pitcher has even done that more than once. Even better... Only THREE OTHER pitchers have posted a line of 7 IP, 0 BB and 10 K in postseason history: Tom Seaver 1973 NLCS Game 1, Don Newcombe 1949 World Series Game 1 and Deacon Phillippe 1903 World Series Game 1.

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