Rangers rebound and can lean on Lee

The Rangers' arms held off the Yankees in Game 2 and now Cliff Lee is ready to go

ARLINGTON, Texas – Not at all undone, as it turned out, by the soul-crushing events of the night before, the Texas Rangers on Saturday afternoon won the game the organization had been waiting on all its life.

For, without their quite convincing 7-2 victory, anything that came over the days ahead would have been little but a clumsy stab at hopefulness.

Instead, the Rangers (Senators) won their first home playoff game ever. They beat the New York Yankees. They attached their bat barrels to everything Phil Hughes(notes) let go of, and put their bullpen on the field to guard all those runs, and made every play.

They wouldn’t admit to it even afterward, but for all reasons – apparent and veiled – the Rangers needed to either win Game 2 or started counting down the days to dismissal.

But, most important, on top of all the flag waving and post-game handshakes, they made Cliff Lee(notes) relevant. Pivotal again, the Rangers ace pitches Monday night at Yankee Stadium, not just to win, but to take charge of the American League championship series.

All of which was a little much for Rangers manager Ron Washington to bear.

“That’s drama!” Washington cried in bemused disagreement. “We don’t have no drama in this clubhouse. I know my guys. I know the character they have. I know how they play baseball. That’s why I say they were going to come back.

“We just go out and play baseball and try to react to what’s presented. That’s it. That’s how we’re able to stay in the moment. We learn from what happened the day before, but we don’t bring it with us.”

True enough, they didn’t when they lost twice here in the division series, returned to Tampa Bay and won Game 5. And they didn’t Saturday, hours after their five-run lead collapsed around a jittery bullpen, threatening to turn Lee’s start into a three-hour, big-city showcase for his own free agency.

No, these Rangers are tougher than we thought. The drama was everyone else’s, not theirs. They looked whipped, then didn’t. Not with Saturday’s win, and not with Lee waiting, and not considering they’d already slinked back to Florida for that deciding game and outplayed the best team in the American League, end to end.

The Yankees have talked plenty of teams into quitting before, including this one about a decade back. And Andy Pettitte(notes) could restart the conversation by outpitching Lee on Monday night.

But not yet. The Rangers scored five early runs and didn’t wait for the Yankees to answer. They put up two more. They saw their starter – Colby Lewis(notes) – tire, and went straight to the same guys who went to pieces the night before, and they got 10 outs, though not without some cajoling.

When the kid closer, Neftali Feliz(notes), walked consecutive hitters with one out in the ninth, Washington went to the mound, where it seemed he’d spent so much of the previous 24 hours.

Standing with his infielders, his catcher and his pitcher – and with the plate umpire approaching – Washington said he carried a single message.

“Belief,” he told Feliz, “is an extraordinary thing. It’s not belief somebody else has in you, it’s belief in yourself. I believe in you. All these people around you believe in you. These two guys on the bags, they don’t believe in you. Now, believe in yourself. And go get me two.”

For the last time over two games, over nine pitching changes and a scattered few other mound excursions for status updates and long sighs, Washington turned and left.

Feliz got him two.

He’d pitched Cliff Lee back into the series, just as Clay Rapada(notes), Darren Oliver(notes) and Darren O’Day(notes) had. David Murphy(notes) clubbed Lee back into the series, just as Michael Young(notes) and Bengie Molina(notes) and Ian Kinsler(notes) had.

“We had our foot on the pedal a little more than yesterday,” Rangers outfielder Jeff Francoeur(notes) said. “We were like, ‘We’re not giving this one away.’

“Hey, for 17 innings we’ve been pretty darned good.”

The other one cost them five runs and a ballgame, of course, and threatened to marginalize the left-hander who has started seven postseason games and won six of them. Over two Octobers his ERA is 1.44. In two starts against the Tampa Bay Rays, he’d struck out 21 batters and walked none.

They won Saturday and brought him into this series, against a team he beat twice in the last World Series, to a place – Yankee Stadium – where he won Game 1 with this line: nine innings, six hits, one run, no earned runs, no walks, 10 strikeouts.

As Francoeur pointed out, “None of us has ever played in late October at Yankee Stadium.”

But, Lee has. And he’s owned the place. It wouldn’t have worked at 0-2. It’s perfect at 1-1.

“It’s not an easy place to play,” Lee said as he packed for the trip north. “We play fundamental ball, we’ll be OK. If we can do that and everybody carries their weight, we can give them a good run for it.

“They’re probably the favorites. You go in there, they’re one of the best teams – arguably the best team – in baseball. It’s not an easy task. It is what it is.”

What it is, then, is drama.