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With ALCS in bag, Lee in line for Series opener

With ALCS in bag, Lee in line for Series opener

ARLINGTON -- Was it important for the Rangers to win Friday's Game 6 and not push the American League Championship Series to a do-or-die Game 7?

Absolute-Lee.

With Friday's winner Colby Lewis putting on a Cliff Lee-like show and shutting down the Yankees, Texas now gets the luxury of trotting out their ace -- who is 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in eight career postseason starts -- for Wednesday's Game 1 of the World Series. The 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner, Lee has allowed more than one earned run just once in a playoff start and has 67 strikeouts against seven walks over that span.

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Incredulous numbers and accolades aside, Lee's presence on the mound gives the Rangers a lift that can't be overstated.

"It's huge," said reliever Darren O'Day, whose 28th birthday coincided with the organization's first World Series berth. "Cliff is a known commodity. You know what you are going to get from him. And being able to start him two games out of seven we are going to be pretty happy. Especially to go out there with him for that first one."

The Rangers, a confident bunch considering their inexperience and underdog status in upending the defending champion Yankees, have had this mind-set all along. Lee, 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA in two World Series starts for the Phillies last season, would toe the mound again to open the Fall Classic. Except this time he would do it for the red, white and blue.

"Everyone kept asking us about Cliff in Game 7," said Rangers veteran Michael Young. "We were thinking about Cliff in Game 1 of the World Series. That's what we thought about and we got that. Game 7 was completely off our radar."

The Rangers' sole focus going forward will be preparing for their next opponent, a challenge Lee said starts on Saturday, as he plans to watch Game 6 of the NLCS, in which the Giants hold a 3-2 edge over the Phillies.

It could be a reunion should Philadelphia rally to win the next two games, although Lee made it clear he won't be "out for blood" in facing the team that he helped get to the World Series before it traded him in the offseason. The Phillies -- who acquired Lee around last year's Trade Deadline -- dealt him to Seattle in a three-way deal that netted them current ace Roy Halladay. With the National League winning this year's All-Star Game, guaranteeing the NLCS winner home-field advantage, there's a possibility Lee will face a hostile crowd of Phillies Phaithful.

"I just want to help this team win," said Lee, who fired eight scoreless innings in New York to cruise to a win in Game 3.

"We don't care who we play. Both of those [NLCS] teams are good. It's going to be a challenge, but we don't doubt ourselves. We control what we can control. We have no control over who's going to win that series. But we won this one."

And if last year's numbers are any indication, having Lee gives the Rangers a pretty good chance to win this next one as well. Lee made his World Series debut in last year's Game 1 at the always-hostile new Yankee Stadium and he lulled the sold-out crowd into silence with a dominant outing. Only a ninth-inning unearned run separated Lee from a postseason shutout in his first foray in the Fall Classic, as he compiled 10 strikeouts in a complete-game victory.

Using pinpoint precision, Lee threw 80 of his 122 pitches for strikes and encountered a three-ball count against just three of the 32 batters that he faced. He also became the first pitcher to post a Game 1 complete-game victory in 14 years, with the previous pitcher being Atlanta's Greg Maddux, who opened the 1995 World Series with a 3-2 win over Cleveland.

It's not the only distinction where Lee conjures up images of baseball's best.

"His control is off the charts," teammate Ian Kinsler raved. "Maybe Greg Maddux is the only one I can think of who controls the ball like he does, or used to control the ball like he does.

"It's pretty easy to be confident when you can put the ball wherever you want."

Yes, confidence is not something the Rangers lack as they prepare for Wednesday's opener. Lee, who also won his Game 5 start in last season's World Series, is a career 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA against the Giants. He also won his only previous start against the Phillies, leaving him with a 1.29 ERA.

Lee will be a free agent at season's ends, a story that is almost as big as the Rangers advancing to the World Series. But in the wee hours of Friday night, with celebratory beer streaming down his cap and into his eyes, that seemed the furthest thing from Lee's mind.

"I'm more focused on winning the World Series," Lee said. "When that's over I'll move on to the free agent stuff. As of now, I'm here, I'm a Ranger and I'm enjoying this."

And the Rangers are enjoying having him.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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