All eyes on Lee to keep Texas' season alive

All eyes on Lee to keep Texas' season alive

ARLINGTON -- The eyes turned to the man in the towel.

Cliff Lee, fresh off watching his Rangers lose Game 4 of the World Series to the Giants, 4-0, and fresh out the shower, found a crowd of reporters waiting for him at his locker in the Texas clubhouse.

They wanted to ask Lee the obvious: How will he approach his start in what is now a must-win Game 5 at Rangers Ballpark on Monday night?

Lee, quickly clothed and fleet of foot, wanted no part of it. He blew through the crowd without uttering so much as a word.

His game face was on already, and he did not look the least bit intimidated by the situation ahead.

"Cliff's confidence is never going to waver," teammate C.J. Wilson said. "With everything he's been through in his career, he's earned the right to pitch with supreme confidence."

The Rangers have supreme confidence in Lee, even though it was his Game 1 clunker that helped place them in this 1-3 bind. Before that ill-fated outing at AT&T Park, Lee had set a postseason precedent for himself that proved impossible to live up to.

Tale of the Tape: World Series Game 5
2010 Regular Season
Overall: 28 GS, 12-9, 3.18 ERA, 18 BB, 185 Ks
Overall: 33 GS, 16-10, 3.43 ERA, 76 BB, 231 K
Key stat: Major League-leading 1.003 WHIP
Key stat: Averaging 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings in postseason
Postseason
2010: 4 GS, 3-1, 2.51 ERA
Career: 9 GS, 7-1, 1.96 ERA
2010: 5 G, 4 GS, 3-1, 2.79 ERA
Career: 5 G, 4 GS, 3-1, 2.79 ERA
At RANGERS BALLPARK
2010: 8 GS, 3-2, 2.94 ERA Career: 14 GS, 6-5, 5.07 ERA
2010: N/A Career: N/A
Against this opponent
2010: 1 GS, 0-1, 11.57 ERA Career: 4 GS, 3-1, 2.83 ERA
2010: 1 GS, 1-0, 6.35 ERA Career: 1 GS, 1-0, 6.35 ERA
Loves to face: Edgar Renteria (4-for-19)
Hates to face: Aubrey Huff (7-for-22, 2B, HR)
Loves to face: Jeff Francoeur (3-for-16)
Hates to face: Vladimir Guerrero (2-for-4)
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: It's still the postseason, and he's still Cliff Lee.
Why he'll win: Unlike Lee, Lincecum rebounded in Game 1.
Pitcher beware: If Giants take same approach as Wednesday, watch out.
Pitcher beware: Wasn't "Freak"-like at home. Now he's on Texas' turf.
Bottom line: Still postseason ace
Bottom line: Thrives in big games

In truth, Lee has struggled before, just not on this stage. And in discussing his first October flop in advance of Game 4 -- back when he was willing to talk -- he didn't seem nearly as concerned as some others over what happened in that initial meeting with the Giants.

"If the games were played on paper and what people write," he said, "then we shouldn't have to play them. That's why you go out there. You never know what's going to happen. Sometimes the best go down, sometimes the worst teams win, and that's why you go out there and play the game."

Lee was clearly off his game in Game 1, and theories abound over the reasons why. Did the mound give him problems? Did he underestimate the Giants' bats? Did he suffer a mechanical breakdown? Is he hiding an injury?

Having entered that outing with a 7-0 record and a 1.26 ERA in eight previous postseason appearances, Lee had made himself a subject of fascination. When he allowed seven runs (six earned) on eight hits over 4 2/3 innings against the Giants, everybody wanted to pinpoint the reason the Great Cliff Lee suddenly and surprisingly floundered.

To Rangers manager Ron Washington, it was a simple matter of Lee getting overworked early.

"The third inning was a big inning there in that first game when we didn't make a couple plays, and he ended up extending himself in that inning," Washington said. "And Cliff Lee is a thoroughbred. Once he gets on that rubber, it's come, come, come; it's charge, charge, charge. To throw 32 pitches and then come back the next inning and put another 20-something up there, I just think it took a lot out of him."

The Giants got to Lee with an aggressive mentality at the plate, and they were aided by the fact that Lee didn't have his characteristic command. He was in and around the zone, for the most part, but he wasn't getting the action on his pitches that he needs to be successful.

"I was throwing balls over the heart of the plate," he said. "I wasn't working ahead in the count as well as I would like. You know, I hit a guy on an 0-2 pitch, I walked a guy. Those are the things I don't need to do, especially in the World Series."

Regardless of what happened in Game 1, the Rangers obviously feel they're in a better position with Lee on the mound than anybody else. That's why it was speculated that Lee might be called into duty on short rest in Game 4, had Texas found itself in an 0-3 hole. Thankfully for the Rangers, it didn't come to that, and Lee, who has never pitched on three days' rest in his career, didn't have to alter his routine.

As far as Lee altering his game plan or making some major mechanical tweak as a result of Game 1, don't bet on it.

"I keep things simple," he said. "I expect to have success every time I take the mound. I mean, I didn't last time. I'm going to go out this next time and expect to have success."

Lee had success in this exact scenario one year ago. The Phillies were down 3-1, and Lee kept the World Series alive with a Game 5 victory at Citizens Bank Park. It wasn't a dominant effort, as Lee did give up five runs over seven innings, but it was enough to extend the Series one more day (and, as it turned out, only more day).

Once again, Lee knows this is his last start of the season, and he wants to make it count. Whether it's his last start as a member of the Rangers is a matter that will be decided this winter, but Lee has made it a point to express nothing but fond feelings for this organization.

"It's definitely one unit, working together," he said. "It's a lot of individually talented players, but we really do pull for each other, and if someone doesn't get it done, the next guy is there to do it. That's the recipe for a winning team, and that's why we are where we're at."

Lee will be back on the mound Monday night. Those flickering World Series title dreams are on the line. And regardless of what transpired in Game 1, there is nobody else the Rangers would rather turn to in this situation.

"I expect Cliff to rebound really well from how he pitched the other day," Wilson said. "Ultimately, it's going to be him going back to what he's done all year."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.