ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — The New York Yankees avoid Cliff Lee until Game 3 of the AL championship series. In the opener, they instead face another Texas Rangers left-hander who has been greatly influenced by the postseason ace in their short time together.
“Before he was here, I was actually a right-handed second baseman,” C.J. Wilson joked Thursday.
Because Lee had to pitch a deciding Game 5 in the division series against Tampa Bay, Wilson starts Game 1 against New York and lefty CC Sabathia on Friday night at Rangers Ballpark.
Wilson already was making an impressive transition from reliever in his long-desired chance to be a Rangers starter again before Texas acquired Lee on July 9. But Wilson immediately began watching his new teammate and asking questions.
“The thing with Cliff is that he keeps his process the same no matter what is going on around him,” Wilson said. “As I’ve gotten more comfortable in my role as a starting pitcher, I’ve had to thicken those walls in my bubble to keep everything else out and stay in my little zone and stay with what is making me successful, and that’s the thing he and I talk about all the time.”
Wilson won 15 games in the regular season, then followed Lee’s spectacular Game 1 start in the first round with a gem of his own, allowing two hits in 6 1-3 scoreless innings. But after winning those games at Tampa Bay, the Rangers lost both at home and had to go back to Florida for the deciding game with Lee back on the mound Tuesday night.
Now that the Rangers have finally won a postseason series for the first time, they get to play New York, which has won 27 World Series titles and 40 pennants.
The Yankees, who haven’t played since wrapping up a three-game sweep over Minnesota on Saturday night, have a nine-game postseason winning streak against Texas. New York knocked the Rangers out of the playoffs in their only three previous appearances between 1996 and ‘99.
“You do worry about not playing for six days,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who celebrated his 46th birthday Thursday. “Hopefully, they won’t be rusty and they will come out and the rest actually did them good.”
This is the first time the Rangers open a postseason series at home. They still have never won a playoff game at Rangers Ballpark, going 0-6 including the two losses last weekend to the Rays.
Lee won both of his World Series starts for Philadelphia last year, including a six-hitter at Yankee Stadium when he struck out 10 and gave up only an unearned run. New York won the other four games.