Wilson takes cues from Lee for Game 5 start
Lefty pays close attention to Rangers ace's domination
NEW YORK -- When Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson takes the mound against the Yankees for the potential American League pennant-clinching Game 5 on Wednesday, there will be no secrets.
"This will be, I think, the fifth start I've had against them," Wilson said.
Which means the 29-year-old is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the Yankees' hitters, while they know what to expect from Wilson.
Or do they?
Wilson spent Monday night's Game 3 keeping a close eye on how ace Cliff Lee carved up a Yankees lineup that has seen Lee more times than it would have liked over the past two seasons. It wasn't so much the result that Wilson was interested in, but rather how Lee went about doing it.
"Everybody knows what he's got," Wilson said of Lee. "He's pretty much an open book in that sense, but he didn't fall into patterns of predictability, so that's something in my notes, something that I've taken a large amount of focus towards is being a little more mysterious out there when I'm throwing."
Wilson faced the Yankees three times during the regular season and was 0-1 with a 5.65 ERA against them.
So while most people were watching Lee on Monday, Wilson kept tabs on something else.
"I watch the hitter more than I watch him in a way because he and I pitch in a similar style with the cutter and the changeup, the inside fastball and the curveball and all that stuff," Wilson said. "So I just try to watch the hitter and see their reaction."
While he might look to approach hitters differently, Wilson certainly must be hoping for similar results to Game 1, when he held the Yankees to just one run through seven innings.
Of course, that game didn't turn out the way the Rangers would have liked with a bullpen meltdown in the eighth that allowed the Yankees to snare a 6-5 win.
Wilson allowed three runs, but one scored after he left the game, on six hits over seven innings.
"I thought I was going to finish the game," Wilson said after Game 1. "But I just made those two mistakes in the eighth inning and that was pretty much it. Curtains, as they say in show business."
While Wilson's humor and unique way of explaining things have been entertaining, it is his work between the lines that has impressed his manager and teammates.
In his Game 2 start against the Rays in the AL Division Series, Wilson allowed two hits and a pair of walks while striking out seven in 6 1/3 scoreless innings to pick up the win.
"He's certainly one guy that doesn't lack confidence," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "He's a special breed. When he takes the mound he expects to win. He's also a guy that works hard. He works just as hard as anyone I've ever seen at their craft. So when he takes the mound, all he has to do is focus on what he wants to do with that baseball and he has been able to do that simply because of his work ethic, simply because of the attitude that he brings."
Wilson has faced an opponent in back-to-back starts just once this year. On June 20, he allowed four runs (two earned) against the Astros in Houston, but followed that up six days later with a win in which he allowed two runs over seven innings.
As for the pressure of dealing with pitching in the playoffs in Yankee Stadium, Wilson thinks his previous role as the team's closer works in his favor.
"The reliever thing has helped me a lot because I think I'm able to work out of those jams more naturally because I've pitched more games," he said. "As a starter you only pitch 30 games a year. As a reliever, I was pitching in 40, 50, 70 games a year. The experience of having guys on base in those pressure situations in the seventh and eighth was more frequent with that."
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.