ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rangers, with some incredibly daring baserunning and the mastery of pitcher Cliff Lee, have made history. They are finally in the American League Championship Series.
The Yankees are waiting for them.
The Rangers secured their position in baseball's version of the Final Four by putting away the Rays, 5-1, in the decisive Game 5 of the AL Division Series on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. The Rangers have finally erased the stigma of being the only Major League franchise never to have advanced to the League Championship Series.
"It's awesome," third baseman Michael Young said. "This is the best moment in team history and I'm so proud and excited to be a part of it."
"This means everything," shortstop Elvis Andrus said. "This is history. This team is really special. We can still do a lot of good things."
Andrus brought it to an end in the ninth. Rays outfielder B.J. Upton swung at Lee's 120th pitch -- 90th strike -- and popped it up to shortstop. Young started jumping up and down. Ian Kinsler pumped his fist in the area.
Lee jumped into the arms of catcher Bengie Molina. The rest of the team joined them in a celebration reminiscent of so many huge wins the Rangers have enjoyed during the season.
But this is easily the biggest victory in Rangers' history.
"When I saw that ball go up, I couldn't contain myself," Kinsler said in the joyous, champagne-drenched clubhouse. "I feel like I'm going to pass out. This game was incredible. It took everything out of me. But what an awesome feeling."
Now the Rangers can bask in the distinction of being the only Major League team to win a five-game Division or League Championship Series by winning all three games on the road.
"Three the hard way," hitting coach Clint Hurdle said.
"This is overwhelming," outfielder Josh Hamilton said.
"Amazing," outfielder Nelson Cruz said. "To win all three games on the road. Now we really are a part of history."
Andrus, Cruz and Vladimir Guerrero scored the Rangers' first three runs in stunning fashion. All three scored from second base on something other than a base hit. Kinsler then finished off the Rays with a two-run home run in the top of the ninth.
Andrus, in the first inning, scored from second on Hamilton's grounder in what could go down as a career-defining play for him. Guerrero's run in the sixth was the ultimate proof that those who thought during free agency last winter that he was in physical decline were dead wrong.
Manager Ron Washington scoffed and took offense at the suggestion the Rangers won the game playing the Rays' style of baseball.
"That's the way we've played all year," Washington said. "Baserunning. It's always been important to us. That's our style of baseball."
Rangers pitchers set an all-time record for most strikeouts in a Division Series:
Also wrong were those that thought the Rangers would crater in Tropicana after losing two chances to close out the series in Arlington. But Lee did not pitch in Arlington.
Lee, expertly mixing his cut fastball with a curve that often buckled Rays hitters, pitched his third career playoff complete game, allowing six hits. He did not walk a batter and struck out 11.
"Tonight was all Cliff Lee," Young said. "We had some aggressive baserunning tonight and Kins hit a big home run in the ninth. But this was all Cliff Lee. When we scored that second run, you could see the look in his eye change."
Lee is now 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA in seven postseason starts, including 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in his two starts against the Rays.
definite-lee among the best
A look at the lowest career postseason ERAs for players with seven or more postseason starts:
"I expected to have success," Lee said. "I expected to pitch well. I just didn't necessarily expect to allow one run and go nine innings."
"He was the Cliff Lee that everybody is used to seeing," Rays outfielder Carl Crawford said.
"We just couldn't get anything going," Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said.
The only problem for the Rangers is Lee, after throwing 120 pitches, will likely be unable to pitch until Game 3 of the ALCS.
The Rangers will open the ALCS at 7 p.m. CT on Friday at the Ballpark in Arlington. Left-hander C.J. Wilson is expected to pitch for the Rangers against left-hander CC Sabathia for the Yankees. Game 2 is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Saturday at the Ballpark and the Rangers will likely pitch Colby Lewis rather than bring back Lee on three days' rest.
"That's the way it looks right now," Washington said.
The biggest thing the Rangers did in Tropicana Field was score first in Games 1 and 2 victories last week. That was the case again on Tuesday night and it was their baserunning that came up big in three innings.
Andrus led off the first with a single to right. After Young struck out, Andrus stole second on a 2-1 pitch to Hamilton. After the count went full, Andrus broke for third and Hamilton hit a chopper to first. As first baseman Carlos Pena fielded the ball and flipped to pitcher David Price covering, Andrus broke for home and scored easily without a throw.
"I was just playing baseball the way we played all year," Andrus said. "That's what we need to do. Play hard and play aggressive."
Ben Zobrist had an RBI single for the Rays in the third, but the Rangers got the run back in the top of the fourth with more daring baserunning. Cruz doubled with two out, then immediately tried to steal third. He was safe and kept on coming as catcher Kelly Shoppach's throw sailed into left field.
"There are nights when we've got to power our way through it and there are nights when we do it that way," Washington said.
Guerrero scored his run in the sixth after reaching on a one-out single and advancing to second on Cruz's infield hit. Kinsler followed with a grounder right at Pena, who threw to second for the force on Cruz. Shortstop Jason Bartlett got the out and then fired to Price, who was covering first, to complete the double play.
But Kinsler beat the throw. Price didn't think so and went to say something to first-base umpire Mike DiMuro. As he was doing so, Guerrero was rounding third and dashing for home. Price recovered and threw home but his throw was a bit high and off the plate, allowing Guerrero to slide in head-first for the run.
"That's three runs right there that's typically the kind of runs we score," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "So that was the part of it that was a little bit maddening. But they played well, they played hard, they came back after two big losses in Texas. You have to give them a lot of credit."
Lee did the rest and on a warm October night under the Tropicana dome, the Rangers rode into history.