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Aces Wild: Lee, Price hope to punch ALCS ticket for their clubs

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Do or die. Winner takes all. Winner moves on, loser goes home.

Use whatever tired cliche' you want, but tonight's American League Division Series matchup between the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays has all the makings of a classic.

Forget the fact that this the first decisive game in this round since 2005 when the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim beat the New York Yankees, or that the Rays are trying to become just the second team ever to rally back and win a series after losing the first two games at home.

How about tonight's pitching matchup between Cliff Lee and David Price? It does not get much better than that, especially in a decisive game. Do-or-die games are a rarity as it is, it is even more rare that we get two teams' top pitchers. And they are both on full rest.


Cliff Lee already has an AL Cy Young Award to his credit.
While Lee already has an AL Cy Young Award to his credit, Price is hoping to win his first this year. But, if you are looking for an advantage, you have to go with Lee, who silenced Tampa's bats in Game 1.

Lee gave up a run and five hits in seven innings last Wednesday and struck out 10 in his team's 5-1 triumph.

"This is why we got him, for this type of game," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "I certainly feel great about what's about to happen when we get to Tampa. We couldn't have a better guy on the mound."

Lee, of course, was 4-0 in last year's playoffs with a 1.56 ERA in five starts with the Phillies, and his 1.52 overall ERA in his six postseason starts is fifth-lowest in major league history for a pitcher with at least five starts. Three of the four pitchers ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame.

Sandy Koufax tops the short list with a 0.95 ERA, followed by Christy Mathewson (1.06), Eddie Plank (1.32) and "Wild" Bill Hallahan (1.36). After that come Lee and Mickey Lolich, with 1.52 ERAs.

"We're in the playoffs," Lee said. "It's down to one game to decide whether we move on. This is exactly where I would want to be, in a situation like this. I had no control or choice on the matter, but to end up here and to end up in a 2-2 series, playing the last game -- it is win or go home at this point. It is playoff baseball at its best."

As good as Lee was in that Game 1 encounter, Price was just as ineffective, as he surrendered five runs (four earned) and nine hits in 6 2/3 innings pitched.

"Obviously, I don't want to have to pitch against a guy like Cliff Lee every time," said Price. "But it's fun -- it is. This is what you grow up as little kids seeing, growing up watching all the games, the postseason games and World Series games, and you see matchups like this. Now that I get to be a part of one, I need to kind of grasp it and take control of it and give us a chance to win."

Price, who pitched in relief in Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS against Boston, had been 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA in the regular season, including a terrific September that saw him go 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA.

"Who else would we want taking the mound than Pricey? We're really excited; we're really excited to be in this position," said Rays first baseman Carlos Pena. "I think it should be a lot of fun."

Speaking of Pena, he has been at the forefront of a Rays' lineup that seemingly has all the momentum right now. Since batting .123 (10-for-81) with one homer through the fifth inning of Game 3, the Rays have erupted to hit .362 (21 for 58) with four homers.

Pena is a big reason for the resurgence. Pena, who hit just .196 in the season, was 0-for-3 in Game 1 and benched for Game 2. But, in Texas the first baseman went 4-for-7 with a home run and four RBI, while pulling off an odd feat, as he recorded a cycle in four at-bats.

Evan Longoria also could be breaking out. After going hitless in 12 at-bats through the first three games, he went 3-for-4 in Sunday's Game 4 with a home run and two RBI.

Again, it may seem like the Rays have all the momentum right now. But to throw another cliche' out there, momentum only lasts as long as the next day's starting pitcher.

Lee is about as good as it gets and I think he will be solid tonight.

If you are looking for a breakout star offensively for tonight's tilt, how about Texas slugger Josh Hamilton? The AL MVP front-runner is hitting just .143 in the first four games of this series and could be poised for a big night.

But let's be honest, if the Rangers are going to win tonight, it is going to be because of Lee. I picked the Rangers in five games because he would be on the hill tonight. What happened over the weekend means about as much as what happened in the regular season at this point. In other words, nothing. Believe in Lee.

PREDICTION: RANGERS 6, RAYS 2

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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