ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rangers brushed aside all their postseason inexperience and past playoff ghosts on one afternoon at Tropicana Field.
Surviving an early crisis, then scoring first and having their No. 1 starter just start mowing down the opposition allowed the Rangers to do just that in their first playoff game in 11 years.
Cliff Lee, after pitching out of a bases-loaded jam in the first, held the Rays to one run over seven innings and pitched the Rangers to a 5-1 victory over the Rays in Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday afternoon. The Rangers will send C.J. Wilson to the mound on Thursday afternoon in Game 2 with a chance to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series back to Arlington.
"It's nice to win Game 1, but we haven't won anything yet," third baseman Michael Young said. "We know what our goal is. We won Game 1, but the series isn't over yet. We're happy with the effort, but now our focus shifts to Game 2. We're not thinking about the overall complexion of the series."
A pair of home runs by Nelson Cruz and Bengie Molina and a pair of RBI doubles by Jeff Francoeur and Vladimir Guerrero led the offensive assault against Rays All-Star left-hander David Price, a 19-game winner during the regular season, and the Rangers snapped a nine-game playoff losing streak dating to 1996.
The Rangers, after Lee's escape, scored two runs in the second off Price, matching the total they scored over six games in the 1998-99 Division Series against the Yankees. Once they did that, Lee did the rest.
"Clifford did what he always does," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "We've seen that before. Cliff stayed calm and was able to control the pace of the game. Early on, he really showed his mettle. After that, he got on a roll and showed more of the vintage Cliff Lee right there."
Lee allowed five hits, did not walk a batter and struck out 10, most by a Rangers pitcher in a playoff game. Lee is 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA in six playoff starts over the past two seasons.
postseason pitching powerhouses
Lowest ERA for a pitcher with at least six postseason starts:
"I'm not going to get caught up in that," Lee said. "That doesn't mean I'm going to have success the next time. I've still got work to do, still got to continue to do what I do and get absorbed in my routine and focus on what I need to do to prepare for the next time. It's not time to sit here and pat myself on back."
He deserves something just for getting out of the first inning. The Rangers, especially given their past and their relative playoff inexperience, easily could have been rattled right away. Lee did not let that happen.
"I thought the game was won and lost in the first inning when both starters had their backs to the wall," Maddux said.
The Rangers failed to score against Price in the top of the first after a couple of two-out singles by Josh Hamilton and Guerrero. Then the Rays launched their own threat in the bottom of the inning with a leadoff single by Jason Bartlett and a pair of one-out singles by Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria to load the bases. Lee stayed after it.
"There's never going to be a point when I'm on the mound that I feel like it's not going to be my day," Lee said. "If you lose confidence out there, you're in a bad spot, regardless of the situation. You've got to stay positive. You've got to feel like you're going to get out of it, and that's the mentality I had at that point."
Lee's postseason dominance
Cliff Lee is 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA in six career postseason starts after his win for Texas in Game 1 of the ALDS on Wednesday.
He did get out of it. One pitch proved huge.
With Carlos Pena at the plate, Lee fell behind 2-and-1 and then threw a fastball high and inside. The pitch appeared to be ball three, but home-plate umpire Tim Welke ruled the ball tipped off Pena's bat as he tried to back away. Pena said the pitch hit him.
"He got hit by the pitch, but they called it otherwise," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Countered Maddux, "To the umpire's credit, he got it right. That's a big swing there. Instead of 3-and-1, it's 2-and-2."
Pena ended up striking out looking on a full-count fastball and Rocco Baldelli went down swinging on three straight pitches to end the threat.
"It's not very often you give up three hits in one inning and they don't score," Lee said. "To get out of that with a zero was huge. It was a momentum builder for our team, and our offense responded in the next inning."
The Rangers did. Ian Kinsler led off with a single and scored on a double by Francoeur. Jorge Cantu struck out, but Molina singled to right to bring home Francoeur to make it 2-0.
"I think for us to come out and quiet them early was a big deal," Francoeur said. "If Cliff gives up a couple of runs in that first inning, maybe Price comes out with the same confidence Lee went out with after we scored those two runs in the second. I think the end of the first and the top of the second, you could kind of tell, the dugout went from being nervous a little bit to all of a sudden everyone was having a lot of fun again."
Cruz went deep with two out in the third, blasting a 3-0 pitch from Price deep over the center-field wall and off the roof of the Batter's Eye restaurant. The home run was measured at 438 feet.
"That's all I got," Cruz said. "I can't hit a ball any farther than that. But you don't need to hit it that far for it to be gone.
Molina added a home run in the fourth and Guerrero, after Hamilton reached on an error, drove in a run with a double in the fifth. That made it 5-0, and by then, Lee was rolling, mixing mainly his cut fastball with an especially effective curveball.
"You know, I have always been a defensive catcher first, so I enjoy every pitcher, but he is amazing," Molina said. "He can go cutter in, curveball away, and he'll get it there. It's a lot of fun being back there. He's a special man."
Lee allowed a double to Ben Zobrist to start the second, then retired the next 12 hitters he faced before B.J. Upton reached on shortstop Elvis Andrus' error in the sixth. Lee's shutout attempt ended when Zobrist hit a one-out home run in the seventh, the first he's ever given up in postseason play.
But that was all the Rays could do against him over seven innings and 104 pitches.
"Beginning of the game he was mainly fastball, just spotting it up," Bartlett said. "And as he got on a roll, he started throwing that curveball in there. That's when he gets tough when he uses all the pitches. Your approach has to change."
Added Zobrist, "He's a great pitcher and he pitched a great game."