Roy Halladay made history last week, but Cliff Lee continues to rule the postseason.
Lee struck out 11 in a 5-1 victory over the Rays in Game 5 tonight, giving the Rangers their first ever postseason series victory and a date with the Yankees in the ALCS.
The Rangers held a 3-1 lead going into the top of the ninth inning, but Ian Kinsler provided some breathing room with a two-run shot off Rays closer Rafael Soriano. Lee got Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena and B.J. Upton in order as the Rays went down without much of a fight in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Lee tossed a season-high 120 pitches in the win. He allowed just two runs over 16 innings during the series (1.13 ERA), posting a ridiculous 21/0 K/BB ratio, improving to 6-0 with 1.43 ERA in seven career postseason starts. He’s a postseason cyborg.
Keep in mind that because Lee was needed in Game 5 tonight, C.J. Wilson will oppose CC Sabathia in Game 1 of the ALCS in Arlington on Friday night. Colby Lewis is likely to get the assignment in Game 2, allowing Cliff Lee to pitch on regular rest for Game 3 next Monday.
And what can you say about the Rays? They managed to win the American League East and secure home-field advantage, but lost all three games at the Trop and were held to just two runs along the way. That’s what out-of-this-world pitching will do to you. Now they are faced with an offseason where Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena and Rafael Soriano are all likely to sign elsewhere.
The Phillies’ bullpen, which has not been good as of late, gift-wrapped Monday’s game for the Cardinals. Starter Nick Pivetta was brilliant, fanning 13 while allowing two runs in 7 1/3 innings. But things unraveled after he left the game. Victor Arano took over for Edubray Ramos to start the ninth inning with the Phillies leading 4-2, but he allowed a one-out single and a double. After striking out Harrison Bader, Arano appeared to strike out Yairo Munoz for the final out of the game, but the ball trickled through the legs of catcher Andrew Knapp, allowing a run to score and the tying run to move to third base. Lefty Adam Morgan came in to face pinch-hitter Kolten Wong. Wong tied the game up, sneaking a single into center field.
In the 10th inning, Jake Thompson gave up the go-ahead run on a leadoff home run to Tommy Pham. It seemed like it was just going to be another one of those losses that have become increasingly common for the Phillies lately. But the Phillies’ offense didn’t go down quietly, even though it hadn’t put a runner on second base since the start of the second inning when J.P. Crawford doubled. In the bottom half of the 10th, Hoskins blooped a single into shallow left-center to start the inning. Hoskins moved to second base on a ground out from Odubel Herrera. Matt Bowman intentionally walked Carlos Santana, then struck out Jesmuel Valentin. That brought up Aaron Altherr, who replaced Nick Williams after Williams took a baseball to the face off of the right field fence. Bowman fell behind 2-1, then threw a 90 MPH fastball that Altherr lined into left field. Rather than keep the ball in front of him, Marcell Ozuna decided to dive for the ball to make the final out, but he missed. The ball trickled past him, allowing the tying and the game-winning runs to score, giving the Phillies a come-from-behind win.
On the list of people happy to see Ozuna miss that ball are Altherr (of course), Arano, Morgan, and Thompson. But perhaps no one was happier than manager Gape Kapler. The win might help take the heat off of him somewhat after another poor performance from the bullpen. When a team struggles, everyone wants a scapegoat and Kapler is an easy target. He has been all year, undeservingly.
Phillies radio broadcaster and former major league reliever Larry Anderson said after the bullpen meltown, “Not everybody can pitch in the ninth inning. And I know Gabe Kapler thinks they can, but they can’t.” Aside from Ramos and Seranthony Dominguez (who was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches between Saturday and Sunday in Milwaukee), no one in that bullpen has been reliable. The closer, Hector Neris, just got optioned to Triple-A. You work with what you have, and right now, Kapler doesn’t have a whole lot. Thankfully for him, he wasn’t punished with another loss thanks to Ozuna.