ST. PETERSBURG -- Next up is C.J. Wilson for the Rangers and CC Sabathia for the Yankees.
The Rangers, having finally won a playoff series, flew home from Florida early Wednesday morning and will open the American League Championship Series at 7 p.m. CT Friday night at the Ballpark in Arlington.Wilson will be the Game 1 starter against the defending World Series champions and Sabathia is expected to pitch for the Yankees. "I feel great," said Wilson, who last pitched on Thursday in Game 2 of the AL Division Series against the Rays. "I've had a lot of rest, so I'm ready to go." The Rangers earned their spot in the ALCS by beating the Rays in five games, wrapping up the series with a 5-1 victory on Tuesday night. The Rangers won the series by winning all three games on the road. Now they have another big challenge. "The Yankees are good," third baseman Michael Young said. "It's definitely going to be a challenge. They are the defending champions, so they are the team to beat. We're ready for the challenge. It's two good teams going out there. It should be a lot of fun." The Rangers will likely pitch Colby Lewis in Game 2 on Saturday. Cliff Lee, who beat the Rays twice in the Division Series, will likely have to wait until Game 3 at Yankee Stadium on Monday. Lee beat the Yankees twice in the World Series last year while pitching for the Phillies. "They are a good team," Lee said. "That's why we're going to meet in the American League Championship Series. They are a good club, just like the Rays. But if we play a complete game and everybody does their part, I like our chances." The two teams met eight times during the regular season and each won four. The Yankees swept three games in New York in April. The two teams split a pair on Aug. 10-11 in Arlington, and the Rangers swept a three-game series over the Yankees on Sept. 10-12 at the Ballpark. Lee was not with the Rangers in April, but beat the Yankees, 4-1, on Sept. 12. "They Yankees are built for the playoffs," manager Ron Washington said. "They are the world champions and the championship goes through New York. We know what they are capable of, but we are up to it. We played them tough before. I expect it to be a pretty good series." So does Rays manager Joe Maddon, who is quite familiar with both teams. The Rays edged the Yankees for the AL East title before being knocked out by the Rangers. "I think it's going to be a great series actually, and I'll tell you why," Maddon said. "Because I think Texas is very similar to us in a lot of respects. I think they're a little bit more offensive, though. That's pretty obvious. They play good defense, run the bases well, good starting pitching, and they have a very nice bullpen that you can match up with, because they have all the lefties. You have to have some lefties out there to match up with the Yankees. "Texas has played them well all season. I happened to catch some of the last outings in Texas on television, and I think it's going to be very entertaining, very interesting, and again I'm saying that because Texas does remind me of us in many ways." This will not be the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs. Every Rangers fan knows the history. The two teams met in 1996 when the Rangers won their first division title and the great Yankees dynasty of the Joe Torre era was just getting launched. The Rangers almost pre-empted that launch. They went down in four hard-fought games, but led in all four games. The Rangers won Game 1 behind John Burkett before the Yankees rallied from behind to win the next three games. The two teams met again in 1998 and 1999. The results were incredibly similar. The Yankees swept both series in three games, but that's not what stunned everybody. The Yankees, by this time in full dynastic mode, completely shut down one of the most powerful offenses in baseball. The Rangers scored one run in three games in the 1998 ALDS. They scored one run in three games in the 1999 series. That's two runs in six games if you're scoring at home. The Rangers have now lost nine straight games to the Yankees in the playoffs. But that was 11 years ago. Young was still a Minor Leaguer in the Blue Jays organization. Vladimir Guerrero was still in Montreal. Lee was pitching at the University of Arkansas. The Rangers started changing their history when they took down the Rays and advanced to the ALCS for the first time. Beating the Yankees would mean even more. It would mean a trip to the World Series. "We play the Yankees well, and I think we can meet the Yankees head on and compete with them," club president Nolan 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."
"I believe in momentum and you have to believe you can do it. And this club has believed right from the start."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.