OK, so maybe Cliff Lee should have started on Saturday afternoon.
Now, even if the Rangers do advance to the American League Championship Series, Lee won't be available -- assuming the Rangers won't let him throw after anything except full rest -- until Game 3. Granted, by then he would have five days of rest and would figure to pitch even better than usual. And if the Rangers can extend the series, Lee would then be available to pitch Game 7 on four days' rest.
If the Rangers were willing to start Lee on short rest, he could have started Game 4 against the Rays, then Games 1, 4, and 7 against the Yankees. But that would have meant starting three times on short rest ... and Lee has never, not even once in his entire career, started on short rest.
Which is why I don't really buy the argument that Lee should have started today, because then he could have started Game 1 against the Yankees. Unless you completely chuck giving him normal rest most of the time, he's going to start just twice against the Yankees, and it doesn't matter a great deal whether he starts Games 1 and 5 or Games 3 and 7.
I think the more substantive argument is that if Lee had started Game 4 against the Rays, C.J. Wilson could have started Game 5. Obviously, under normal circumstances your chances are better with Lee and Wilson than with Tommy Hunter and Lee.
Most of us would guess, I think, that Lee on short rest is better than Hunter on full rest. But what about Lee on full rest versus Wilson on full rest? As good as Wilson is, isn't Lee better?
I will note, too, that Joe Maddon had almost exactly the same decision to make. ERA aside, David Price isn't Cliff Lee's equal. But Price is Tampa Bay's ace, yet Maddon didn't care to deploy him on short rest.
Conventional wisdom isn't always right. But the CW on this one is pretty well-established. You pitch your ace on short rest when A.) you're pretty sure he can do it, or B.) you're desperate.
In this case, neither condition applied. As someone else observed, there are only so many CC Sabathias. And Cliff Lee, for all his talents, probably isn't one of them.