ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Texas Rangers ace Cliff Lee will take the mound Wednesday in Game 1 of the American League Division Series and attempt to do something he hasn't accomplished since Aug. 22, 2008: Beat the Tampa Bay Rays.
Not since Lee was a member of the Cleveland Indians and on his way to a 22-3 Cy Young season has the lefty topped the Rays. But, in typical Lee fashion, his three-game drought against Tampa, all coming this season and twice within 12 days in May with the Seattle Mariners, has been more about bad luck than bad pitching.
With the Rangers on Aug. 16, Lee pitched into the eighth inning with a 4-2 lead, having outlasted his Game 1 opponent, David Price, who had allowed two runs and struck out eight through six innings. But for Lee, the Rangers' defense failed him in the bottom of the eighth and Joaquin Arias was the goat, unable to snag a blooper into right that went for a double and he then made a poor decision to try for a difficult force at second instead of the sure out at first on a fielder's choice.
The inning stayed alive and Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena and Ben Zobrist sent Lee to the showers with six earned runs on nine hits and 10 strikeouts. Arias was traded to the New York Mets for Jeff Francoeur two weeks later.
"A couple years ago, we beat Roy Halladay several times, too. To beat guys like Cliff Lee and Halladay, you have to pitch well yourself. You’re not going to go out there and just bludgeon them," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "You got to go out there and pitch well and play defense well and play all the other small components of your game well to beat these guys. If you look back, that's pretty much what had happened."
In his second against Tampa with Seattle on May 16, Lee pitched an eight-inning complete game and lost, 2-1, in a duel with Matt Garza, who will start Game 3 in Arlington. On May 5, Tampa tagged Lee for four earned runs on 10 hits in eight innings in an 8-3 loss that also came against Garza, who that day gave up just two runs in eight innings.
In those three starts, Lee has received eight runs of support. Meanwhile, in 23.2 innings pitched against the Rays, Lee has surrendered 12 earned runs on 24 hits with 25 strikeouts and two walks.
"To beat a Cliff Lee, it’s got to be a complete game," Maddon said. "It’s not just about your offense."