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Lee gives Texas sneak peek at playoff abilities

Lee gives Texas sneak peek at playoff abilities

ARLINGTON -- Think the Rangers are confident with Cliff Lee as their No. 1 starter going into the playoffs?

Just ask veteran catcher Bengie Molina.

"Heck yeah I am," Molina said. "Come on ... it's Cliff Lee, man. Everybody has to be confident in him. Anybody who doesn't have confidence in him is crazy. He's the Man. He's good."

Lee was good on Thursday night, reinforcing the Rangers' confidence in him as they get ready to send the veteran left-hander to the mound for Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday.

Lee didn't get the victory, but he still held the Angels to one unearned run over seven innings in the Rangers' 3-2 victory on Thursday night at the Ballpark in Arlington. The Rangers won this one in the bottom of the eighth on a double by Nelson Cruz and a single by Vladimir Guerrero.

The go-ahead RBI was Guerrero's 32nd of the season, most in the American League. Closer Neftali Feliz pitched the ninth to earn his 39th save of the season, the fifth-most in club history.

The Rangers have now won 89 games, tied for the fourth-most in club history. The Rangers won a club record 95 games in '99, 94 in '77 and 90 in '96. They won 89 games in '04. The Rangers, not that it matters now that the division is clinched, also have an 11-game lead in the AL West -- the largest lead they have ever had in club history.

"We've got some guys getting some rest, now we've just got to get healthy," said manager Ron Washington. "We'll be ready. It's a good time to start getting re-focused, and the guys are doing just that."

But as the Rangers point their way toward the Division Series next week, getting their No. 1 starter at the top of his game is high on their priority list.

"It went really well," Lee said. "I got everything where I wanted going into the postseason. I used all my pitches, made a mechanical adjustment, everything went well."

Apparently, the unspecified mechanical adjustment was needed after allowing four runs in five innings in a 5-0 loss to Oakland in his previous start. Lee also wanted to bring his changeup around and have it sharp for the playoffs. That mission was accomplished.

"I used more changeups tonight, and they were effective," Lee said. "I haven't thrown it a lot lately, but it was a big pitch tonight and a big pitch going into the playoffs."

Lee allowed four hits over seven innings without walking a batter. He struck out eight and finished with 93 pitches.

"It's nice to go into the playoffs on a good note like that," Washington said. "We wanted to get 6-7 innings out of him under 100 pitches, and that's what happened."

"He was in and out, hard and soft," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "He just goes right after you -- inside corner, outside corner. He doesn't make a mistake at all. You just don't hit him clean at all. It's always off the end of the bat or a jam shot. He's one of the best in the game."

He ends the regular season with a 12-9 record and a 3.18 ERA. He was 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA with the Rangers, but was 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in his last four starts after being skipped in the rotation because of a strained lower back.

"That's completely gone," Lee said. "I'm not even getting any treatment for it."

Lee also finished the season with 185 strikeouts against a mere 18 walks, a ratio of 10.28 -- the second-highest figure in the Major Leagues since 1900. Bret Saberhagen had an 11.00 ratio during the 1994 strike-shortened season while with the Mets.

The Angels tied it in the eighth when Peter Bourjos hit a solo jack off reliever Darren O'Day. Lee missed out on getting the win, but he agreed that this was an important outing for him.

"Obviously, you want to get your stuff right going into the postseason," Lee said. "You want to know you feel good about where you are and your pitches are working. So yeah, it was important."

Mission accomplished. Just ask his catcher.

"Yeah, he's ready to go," Molina said. "He looked pretty good."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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