Lee powers Rangers to sweep of Yankees
Seventh-inning rally fuels ace's eight-plus stellar innings
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers still have to finish off an American League West title to even start thinking about the postseason. But they sure left their fans fantasizing about what might be after capping off a three-game sweep of the Yankees on Sunday afternoon at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Texas ace Cliff Lee returned from a back injury and a 12-day break in dominating fashion, allowing a lone run in eight-plus innings as the Rangers closed out the Yankees with a 4-1 victory before 42,007 ecstatic fans.
Having Lee back in form is a very good thing, but so is the way the Rangers won Sunday, perhaps playing one of their best games of the season, that gives cause for renewed confidence, last week's five-game losing streak a thing of the past. The Rangers have now won five straight games and swept the Yankees, owners of baseball's best record, for the first time since 1996, the first season Texas made it to the playoffs.
The Rangers outlasted the Yankees by running the bases aggressively and intelligently. They also won with a well-timed drag bunt by 24-year-old center fielder Julio Borbon.
Borbon's big moment came after Ian Kinsler put his teammate in a position to produce the game-winning play with a 1-1 deadlock in the bottom of the seventh. Kinsler walked to start the inning, then wisely advanced to second base on a fly ball by Mitch Moreland that sent Yankees right fielder Greg Golson to the warning track. Kinsler then moved to third base on a deep fly ball to right by Matt Treanor.
That brought up Borbon, who went to the plate with the idea that he might try to lay down a bunt. Yankees third baseman Eduardo Nunez was in on the grass, and first baseman Mark Teixeira was playing inside the first-base bag.
Borbon worked the count to 2-1. Looking for an off-speed pitch because Yankees starter Dustin Moseley had thrown him two curveballs and a changeup, Borbon decided it was time for a drag bunt. Moseley threw a cutter, and Borbon laid down a perfect bunt that Teixeira came in and fielded cleanly, but the speedy center fielder beat Moseley to the bag, allowing Kinsler to score for a 2-1 Rangers lead.
"As I started working the count, they backed off a little bit," Borbon said. "It was something I had definitely planned -- according to what had been going on the first couple of pitches, I was going to make an adjustment. So just being able to put myself in that position and having a pretty good idea of what might be coming to me gave me a very good chance to do that."
Borbon bunted on his own, and it worked.
"That was real gutsy," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He executed it to a 'T.' That's the type of things we did today. "
The Yankees weren't surprised by Borbon's decision, and after the game could really only give him credit for executing in a tie game.
"If you're good at it, it's a smart play," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He's a guy that bunts. We played in first base and third base. It was just an outstanding bunt and the grass here is real good for it."
The Rangers fed off the momentum Borbon provided. Back-to-back RBI singles by Elvis Andrus and Michael Young gave the Rangers important insurance runs for a 4-1 lead.
Lee pitched a quick eighth inning, and after he walked Derek Jeter to start the top of the ninth, closer Neftali Feliz struck out the side, relying on a biting curveball, to put away the Yankees.
Lee showed no signs of the back troubles he's had since his last start at the end of August. He was forced to skip a start because of muscular pain in his lower back.
Lee induced 14 ground-ball outs and struck out five. The Rangers' prized trade acquisition had struggled in his previous four starts, allowing 26 runs in 23 innings.
"He came after us like he always does," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said. "He's a good pitcher. He does a lot of things well and puts the ball where he wants to."
Lee took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. He got one out, before Eduardo Nunez ended the no-hit bid with a sharp line-drive single up the middle. Lee and the Rangers actually ended up falling behind by a run in the inning when Jeter scored Nunez with a two-out double down the right field line.
The Rangers tied the game at 1 in the bottom of the sixth on good baserunning by Andrus, who stole second base, moved to third on a fly ball and scored on a slow-hit ground ball to first base by David Murphy.
After the Rangers tied the game in the bottom of the sixth, Lee delivered a shutdown inning in the seventh, setting the stage for Borbon.
"He was able to get out there and relax a little bit. And he's healthy," Washington said of Lee. "He was very efficient." As were the Rangers on Sunday, and throughout a weekend that saw Friday and Saturday's games both end after midnight. Against the Yankees, the Rangers kept their focus, winning in their last at-bat in each of the first two games, and won again in the late innings on Sunday.
"They're one of the best teams in the game, and we played for three games better than they did," Washington said. "It's obvious on certain days that we can play with anybody. That's all it meant."
Todd Wills is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.