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07/28/10 12:50 AM ET
After Lee cruises, Cruz wins it for Rangers
Lefty dominates with 13 strikeouts; slugger hits walk-off homer
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Nelson Cruz brought it to an end in the bottom of the 10th inning with a long home run into the left-field bleachers, but Michael Young was succinct in summing up Tuesday night at the Ballpark in Arlington. "That game was all Cliff Lee," Young said. "You can't say enough about the job he did. Their starting pitcher threw the ball really well, but Cliff dealt for nine innings." The Rangers just needed 10 innings to pull it out as Cruz's home run off Athletics reliever Michael Wuertz gave Texas a 3-1 victory before 28,124 fans at the Ballpark. The Rangers have now won nine of 12 games since the All-Star break. "That one was great, considering the way we were playing and the way Cliff is throwing the ball," Cruz said. "He didn't get the win, but we got on top -- that's the most important thing." Lee didn't get the victory. Closer Neftali Feliz picked it up with a scoreless 10th, but Lee still had a night to remember in allowing just one unearned run on five hits over nine innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out 13. The 13 strikeouts -- a career high for Lee -- were the most by a Rangers pitcher since Aaron Sele struck out 13 on Aug. 12, 1999, against the Tigers. It also tied the Rangers' club record for left-handers, set by Jamie Moyer on April 8, 1989. "Locating fastballs," Lee said. "I started mixing it up a lot more late in the game. The first five or six innings, it was just locating fastballs in and out and the occasional cutter here and there. That was the key to the game: locating fastballs, for sure. "I knew I had a few strikeouts. I didn't know how many. I'm really not too concerned about that. I'm more worried about just getting them out as quick as possible. I'd rather not have any strikeouts and get them out in the first couple of pitches. You can't complain if you're getting strikeouts." The Athletics complained. Seven of those strikeouts were caught looking at strike three. Jack Cust, batting fifth as the designated hitter, was caught looking three times and wasn't around for a fourth chance. After striking out looking in the seventh, he started yelling at home-plate umpire Kerwin Danley and was ejected from the game. Asked about the ejection, Oakland manager Bob Geren said tersely, "I can't talk about that." Asked about Lee, Geren was equally terse: "Lee ... he didn't walk anyone. He threw a lot of strikes." Lee usually does. He has now gone eight consecutive games, including four with the Mariners, while hurling at least eight innings and issuing two or fewer walks. That hasn't happened in the Major Leagues since Joe Niekro in 1982. Lee also went at least 8 1/3 innings for the fourth straight time since being traded to the Rangers. That's the longest such streak since Charlie Hough did it over six straight outings in 1988. Lee looked to be done after 8 2/3 innings. He went out for the ninth in a 1-1 game, retired the first two hitters and then gave up a single to Kevin Kouzmanoff. At that point, Lee had thrown 114 pitches, Feliz was warming up in the bullpen and manager Ron Washington headed to the mound. Landon Powell was getting ready to hit for Cust. When Washington goes to the mound, that means the pitcher is done. But for the first time this season, Washington made a mound visit without removing the pitcher. "When I got to the mound, he said, 'Skip, is there any chance I can talk you out of it,'" Washington said. "I said, 'You got this guy?' and he said, 'Yeah, of course.'" Lee was true to his word. Powell grounded out to end the inning. "That was a huge boost," Young said. "That's the nature of having a true ace. He wants the ball and doesn't want to come out of the game. He's confident and he knows exactly what he's doing. To Wash's credit, he left him in the game." The Rangers just needed one run to make Lee's effort pay off. They finally got it in the 10th after Josh Hamilton drew a one-out walk off Wuertz. Cruz worked the count to 1-1 and then got a slider. He crushed it. "Right away, I thought it was way out," Wuertz said. "It caught up with the wind and died down a bit, but then it got out. ... He did what he needed to do." Cruz had already made a huge defensive play when he went to the wall in the sixth inning and snatched a potential two-run home run away from Kevin Kouzmanoff. "If he doesn't make that, it's a home run and we lose the game," Lee said. "Nelson Cruz pretty much took two runs away with that catch from Kouz's ball, and then he hit the homer," Geren said. "That was really the difference right there." Lee made a difference, too.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.