ST. PETERSBURG -- Cast as baseball's John Wayne for more than four decades, the gentleman rancher with the blazing fastball and keen business sense, Nolan Ryan never has been one for outward displays of emotion.
His deep satisfaction on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field, having watched Cliff Lee pitch and will his Texas Rangers to the franchise's first postseason series triumph, came through loud and clear in his soft-spoken words.
"It's unbelievable, really," Ryan said outside a wild clubhouse celebration in the afterglow of a 5-1 decision over the Rays in Game 5 of the American League Division Series. "If you look at this game, it's the biggest game in the history of this organization."
He grinned when it was pointed out that it could be just the start of something really big deep in the heart of Texas.
"Well," he said, in that familiar drawl, "I don't know where it's going to go from here. But I know all of us in this organization are feeling very good tonight. This is quite an achievement by everyone involved."
The Rangers would be returning home and getting ready for the invasion of the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series on Friday night at Rangers Ballpark.
The Bronx Bombers have been unkind to the Rangers in postseasons past, but Ryan has a feeling this outfit is cut from a different cloth than previous editions.
"We play the Yankees well, and I think we can meet the Yankees head on and compete with them," Ryan said. "Normally in this league, you have to go through New York if you're going somewhere past them. I think our guys anticipated that, and they're ready for it."
As AL West kingpins for the first time since 1999, dethroning the three-time reigning champion Angels, the Rangers played through the court drama that resulted in the awarding of the franchise to Ryan and his group of investors headed by Chuck Greenberg, managing partner and CEO.
The completion of the sale to Ranger Baseball Express LLC came on Aug. 12, with Greenberg working closely with Ryan, the club president, and general manager Jon Daniels to make it all happen.
"This is everything we could have hoped for," Ryan said. "I know everyone involved is thrilled with the way this ballclub has played.
"I believe in momentum and you have to believe you can do it. And this club has believed right from the start. We were able to put some pieces together, and the biggest, obviously, was Cliff. It gave us the lead horse on our pitching staff, and he showed in this series what he's capable of doing."
Because the Rays extended the Rangers to the five-game limit by taking both games in Arlington, Lee won't be available to manager Ron Washington until Game 3 of the series against the Yankees.
"It was hard to get comfortable tonight, because we know how dangerous that ballclub over there [the Rays] is," Ryan said. "You never want to give them any momentum. We've seen what they can do when they get something rolling. Cliff was just so good, so dominant, he never let that happen."
Texas will have another talented southpaw, C.J. Wilson, rested and ready for Game 1 against CC Sabathia, the Yankees' lead horse.
Ryan is thrilled that the home-field advantage belongs to his club even though the Rangers are seeking their first postseason win at home, having dropped six.
"Our fans showed this weekend how hungry they are, too," Ryan said. "That was the disappointment of the weekend, that we didn't get it done for 100,000 people in our place.
"It will be rocking on Friday night again with the Yankees in town."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.