OAKLAND -- No. 100 was typical Cliff Lee. He had a little trouble in the first inning but was in complete control the rest of the way. His tempo was quick, his stuff was overpowering and his command was impeccable. He was just what the Rangers needed to push their lead to 9 1/2 games in the American League West. Not that anybody was popping any corks in the clubhouse afterward but Lee did earn his 100th career victory by pitching the Rangers to a 5-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday night at the Oakland Coliseum.
"I guess it's a decent milestone," Lee said. "But I'm not concerned about that. I'm more concerned about giving my team a chance to win, keeping us headed in the right direction and getting to the playoffs. Hopefully there will be 100 more." The Rangers are going to get to the playoffs if they keep this up. Their lead with 53 left to play is their largest lead of the season. If the Rangers go 27-26 the rest of the way, the second-place Athletics will have to go 37-17 to catch them. "I don't think about that one bit," third baseman Michael Young said. "That's not the way we are, focusing on that. We focus on trying to get better. That mentality has been good for us this year so we're going to stay with it." The one difference about Lee's start on Friday and his previous five with the Rangers is that he was given some runs to work with. The five runs were the most they've scored for him since he was acquired from the Mariners on July 9. Catcher Taylor Teagarden led the way in that regard with a double and a home run in his third start behind the plate since being recalled from the Minor Leagues on July 24. He is 3-for-11 since the recall after going 1-for-27 in April before being sent down to the Minors. "It's gratifying," Teagarden said. "It feels good to be out there on the bases running around and scoring runs. Obviously, my job is to get Cliff through the game, but swinging the bat like that is fun." Lee, who went eight innings, seems to be having little problem getting through games. Lee now has 10 consecutive outings in which he has pitched at least eight innings, the longest such streak since Toronto's Pat Hentgen turned in 12 in a row in 1996. "I'm not patting myself on the back for anything," Lee said. "I'm just trying to give my team a chance to win every time out. The middle of the season is not the time to think about what you're proud of. I'm focused on my routine and getting ready for my next start." Lee allowed one run on seven hits, struck out eight and did not walk a batter. He threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of 31 hitters. He was 0-and-2 on 14 of 31 hitters. He now has 126 strikeouts against just nine walks, a 14-to-1 ratio that is easily the best ever. Since 1900, no Major League pitcher has averaged more than 11 strikeouts per walk. "He definitely has impeccable control," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "The hitters know what's coming, that's what's so marvelous. They know what's coming and they still don't do a lot with it. He moves his fastball all around and late in the game he starts dropping the breaking ball and changeup. That's a model pitcher." Said Young, "He's one of the best in the game for a reason. He throws a ton of quality pitches. He's not flipping the ball down the middle of the plate. He throws quality pitch after quality pitch. That's why he's so successful." Lee's only glitch with the Rangers has been some first-inning struggles, and it happened again on Friday night. Daric Barton tripled with one out and scored on a double by Kurt Suzuki. It's the fourth time in six starts with the Rangers that Lee has given up a first-inning run. Opponents are hitting .423 off him in the opening inning with the Rangers and .187 in all others. "I was a little erratic early, not hitting my spot," Lee said. "But the ball Barton hit was a good pitch. You have to give him credit. Suzuki did a good job getting a good pitch to hit and driving in the run." Lee got out of that inning without further damage, retiring Kevin Kouzmanoff on a grounder to short and striking out Adam Rosales. For the rest of the night he dominated. "He was commanding both sides of the plate," Athletics manager Bob Geren said. "He has a real good idea of what he's doing with the ball out there. There's an old saying you can believe if you want, and that's that the good pitchers tend to get better as the game goes on. You have to get to them early." Lee did just that. The Rangers just needed to get him some runs. They had scored just eight runs for him in his first five starts but that changed on Friday night. The Rangers were down, 1-0, in the third inning against Athletics starter Dallas Braden when Teagarden led off with a double into the left-field corner. He scored on a double by Elvis Andrus, just Andrus' fifth extra-base hit in his last 50 games. Josh Hamilton then put the Rangers ahead with a long home run to right-center field in the fourth inning, his 24th of the year but his first since July 20. Teagarden had a home run on the last homestand and added another one in the fifth inning. After Cristian Guzman reached on an infield hit, Teagarden hit an 0-2 changeup over the left field wall to give the Rangers a 4-1 lead.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.