By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 13, 2010; 11:38 PM
The Texas Rangers are postseason neophytes, but they have at least one inevitability about October baseball figured out. "Normally," Rangers President Nolan Ryan said, "you pretty much have to go through New York if you want to go somewhere past there."
Maybe the current roster wouldn't know first-hand, but that, historically, is especially the case for the Rangers. When the Rangers made the playoffs three times in the 1990s - in 1996, 1998 and 1999, the only three times, prior to this year, they had made the playoffs - they ran into the New York Yankees each year. They won the first game of the series in 1996, and they did not win another game. Before this year, the entirety of the Rangers' playoff history was a 1-9 record against the Yankees.
That's all in the record books, and it won't have any bearing once the American League Championship Series begins Friday. This season, the Rangers and Yankees split their season series, 4-4, with the Yankees outscoring the Rangers, 39-33. The Yankees swept the Rangers in Yankee Stadium back in April, and in the final five games of the season series - all played at the Ballpark in Arlington - the Rangers took four of five.
"Well, we've played the Yankees well," Ryan said. "I think that we can meet the Yankees head on and compete with them."
History aside, it would be hard to bet against the Rangers if they had Cliff Lee starting two of the first five games of the series. Alas, they needed him for last night's Game 5, and Lee provided another October masterpiece.
"We had to do what we had to, and we'll adjust," Ryan said. "We're just thankful that we're going to the next round."
Lee still could pitch twice in the ALCS if his teammates can extend the series. He likely will start Game 3 on five days' rest, and the extra day may be helpful after he threw 120 pitches, the most he has thrown in any start since Game 1 of last year's World Series. Lee could then start Game 6 on three days' rest, or Game 7 on regular rest. (In his career, Lee has pitched only once on three days' rest - but he did throw a complete game in that start.)
No matter how many times Lee starts, he surely will be the central figure of the series. There is his history against the Yankees, whom he dusted twice in the World Series last year, the only two games the Phillies won. There is his impending free agency, which is coming at a time that will make him an insanely rich man. Many people believe he will pitch for the Yankees next season after signing a contract worth well north of $100 million. The Yankees tried to trade for Lee - and thought they had - before the Rangers swooped in at the last moment.
All of which, for Lee, will mean nothing over the next week or so.
"I can't wait," Lee said, "to face the Yankees."
Before Lee pitches Game 3 and A.J. Burnett - a starter so unreliable he somehow managed to lose 15 games with the league's highest-scoring offense behind him - presumably starts Game 4 for the Yankees, it's not difficult to envision the Rangers splitting the first two games of the series.
Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson dominated Game 2 of the ALDS, and he'll have a fighting chance against Yankees ace CC Sabathia in Game 1 . The Rangers won two of Wilson's three starts against the Yankees this season despite his 5.65 ERA in those games.
The Yankees announced Wednesday that Phil Hughes, their Game 3 starter in the ALDS sweep over the Minnesota Twins, will pitch Game 2 with Andy Pettitte going against Lee and Burnett scheduled to pitch Game 4.
Home-field advantage was rendered worthless in the first round, with host teams going 4-11 and the Rangers losing twice at home and winning all three times on the road. But the Rangers will get to start the series in Arlington, at their own ballpark.
"It'll be rocking again Friday night," Ryan said, "with the Yankees in town."