Dazzling Dozen: Rangers win ALDS Game 5

Cliff Lee went the distance in clinching the Rangers' first playoff series win in Game 5 of the ALDS against Tampa. AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

It was not only a memorable game, but a huge step forward in the history of the Rangers franchise when Texas won its first playoff series. So it gets the coveted No. 2 spot.

No. 2: Cliff Lee, Rangers win Game 5 ALDS

The Rangers took a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 against the Tampa Bay Rays by winning the first two games in Tropicana Field. But the Rays and Rangers flew back to Tampa for Game 5 with Tampa Bay having the momentum after taking Games 3 and 4 in Texas.

But there's no greater momentum killer than Lee. And he sure showed why in a winner-take-all Game 5. The Rangers traded Justin Smoak and three other prospects to get Lee in July because they wanted a true ace that could win not only big games down the stretch in the regular season, but playoff games. He won Game 1, pitching well after the Rangers got him an early lead. Rather than try to start him in Game 4 on short rest, the Rangers opted to keep Lee on his regular schedule and save him for a possible Game 5. They were sure glad they had him that night in Tampa.

Lee's teammates provided him with a 2-1 lead after 3 1/2 innings and that's all he needed. The ace struck out 11 batters and scattered six hits. He went the distance, giving a bullpen that had been shaky in Games 3 and 4 the night off. He didn't walk anybody and rarely did it seem the Rays had a chance to do much of anything off of him. He was the dominant pitcher everyone expected to see in such a critical game.

Rangers president and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan pulled Lee aside after the game on the field and told him how proud he was of him.

"I told him I thought that was two of the best performances I've seen in a long time," Ryan said that night. "And I told him I appreciated him stepping up the way he did. Tonight was the exact reason we went out and got him."

Lee ended up with 21 strikeouts and no walks in 16 innings against Tampa Bay in the ALDS. Midway through that Game 5, he went with a heavy dose of a slow curve, which left the Rays hitters shaking their heads. Lee had pinpoint control, throwing 90 of his 120 pitches for strikes. He got ahead in the count and dictated the rhythm of the game.

The Rangers got him some runs thanks to ultra-aggressive baserunning. Elvis Andrus just kept running from second to home on a Josh Hamilton grounder in the first and the Rays didn't react quick enough to get him sliding at home. Nelson Cruz stole home with two outs and then scored on a high throw by the catcher to third in an effort to get him. Vladimir Guerrero went home from third after the Rays attempted to get a double play and scored just ahead of the tag.

That was plenty for Lee, who ended the game by jumping into the arms of Bengie Molina (who even had a stolen base in the game). Lee credited his teammates as he fully enjoyed himself in the postgame celebration in visiting clubhouse in Tampa.

This game my the dazzling dozen because:

* One of the best moments for me this season was seeing Lee not even bother to look back when the final pop-up was hit to end Game 5. He just took some steps toward Molina and jumped into his arms after Andrus caught the final out. He knew it was over and the celebration began.

* The Rangers were the only MLB franchise without a playoff series win. That was erased with the Game 5 victory. For so many employees and fans that had followed the team since its arrival in Texas in 1972, it was a huge moment. The Rangers were in the ALCS playing for the AL pennant for the first time.

* That series showed the Rangers would figure out a way to win games no matter what. They were not a good road team in 2010 (the worst road team of any of the playoff teams). Yet they won all three games played at Tropicana Field to advance.

* The versatility that manager Ron Washington preached since his arrival prior to the 2007 season was in full bloom. The Rangers stole bases, manufactured runs and didn't just simply rely on the big blast. The bashers from the late 1990s couldn't get the job done against good pitching in the playoffs. This Rangers bunch did get the job done in the ALDS.

* The win validated what GM Jon Daniels and his staff had done in building the minor league system and making shrewd trades to make the club better. Lee, the biggest piece, was the key to the series. But others that Daniels brought in -- Molina, Cruz and Guerrero -- were keys to winning that Game 5 as well.

* It was special for managing general partner and CEO Chuck Greenberg. He didn't grow up a Rangers fan, but he fought hard to purchase the team and took pride in how his new team won a dramatic playoff series.

* Washington was fun to watch that night. Players just kept dousing him with champagne, ginger ale and beer as he roamed around the clubhouse and talked to the media. The club stuck with Washington even after he failed the drug test and he rewarded them as this Rangers team was built in his image. They never gave up, played hard every game and found a way to get the job done.

Where were you win the Rangers won the ALDS? Where does this game rank for you in the top-12?