In a baseball season frequently dubbed “the year of the pitcher” because of the sudden proliferation of dominant mound performances seemingly helping to shut the door on Major League Baseball’s notorious “steroid era,” we are being treated to an encore presentation in the 2010 postseason.

Only partially through the first round of the Division Series segment of the playoffs, we have already seen Roy Halladay toss the second no-hitter in postseason history in his personal playoff debut. Tim Lincecum offered a similarly dominant debut with a complete game, two-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts.

Cole Hamels clinched Philadelphia’s NLDS sweep of the Reds with a complete game shutout, and Cliff Lee continued to add to his impeccable playoff resume with a third career postseason start in which he struck out at least 10, while walking none, a feat that has only been accomplished by four other pitchers in history.

Jonathan Sanchez pitched a brilliant game in his first taste of the playoffs, and Phil Hughes went seven shutout innings in his postseason debut to clinch the ALDS sweep for the Yankees. The Year of the Pitcher indeed.

As if we hadn’t been treated to enough incredible pitching already, ALDS Game 5, between the Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, will feature a rematch of possibly the most tantalizing head-to-head pitching clash we have seen so far.

Two of the top lefties in the game, Cliff Lee and David Price, will reprise their starting roles from Game 1, in the final, decisive game between the Rangers and Rays, determining which team will host the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

Game 1 wasn’t quite the pitchers’ duel we expected, as Price was roughed up by the Texas offense in 6.2 innings of his first career playoff start. The flame-throwing 25-year-old lefty had five previous postseason appearances under his belt from 2008, but he had not yet started a playoff game before this series opener.

David was hit hard and often as he allowed five runs on nine hits, two of those being home runs, as his Rays squad dropped the opening game 5-1 at home.

Cliff Lee, on the other hand, continued to add to what has already become a legendary playoff resume with yet another dominant postseason start in the last two years. Lee’s seven-inning performance, in which he allowed one run on five hits and no walks, with 10 strikeouts, pushed him to 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA in 6 career playoff starts.

His 1.52 ERA is the fifth-lowest in MLB history for pitchers with at least five playoff starts, trailing only four hurlers, three of whom are in the Hall of Fame. As previously stated, only seven times has a pitcher struck out at least 10 batters while walking none, and Cliff Lee has done it three times since last October.

The Rangers have precisely the right pitcher on the mound as they attempt to advance to the American League Championship Series for the first time in franchise history. They are fighting for the chance to go on to face the only other team they have ever played in the postseason, the New York Yankees, a team that has eliminated Texas in three playoff series since 1996.

Lee was acquired for occasions such as these, as his calm, cool demeanor projects an air of confidence that the Rangers hope will spur his teammates toward victory. In just a short time, Cliff Lee has crafted a well-deserved reputation as one of baseball’s best big-game pitchers.

During his short stint in Philadelphia last season, the Phillies rode him to Game 6 of the World Series before ultimately falling short to the very same Yankees that the Rangers are hoping to face in the ALCS. One can bet Cliff Lee has considered the shot at redemption against the team that denied him World Series glory in 2009.

For now though, Lee must not look ahead to the Yankees, as he faces a Tampa team who owned the best record in the American League during 2010. In his back pocket though, Lee knows that he just dominated the Rays in the very same venue less than a week ago. Despite that dominant outing in the ALDS opener however, Tampa were actually 3-0 versus Lee in 2010, as they managed 24 hits against him in 23.2 innings.

From the Rays’ perspective, there is at least that flicker of hope to rely on, and the knowledge that, after being down two games to none, momentum has now shifted in their favor. How far that pendulum has swung in Tampa’s direction will much depend on how well Lee can resemble his sterling playoff reputation.

Texas hope that they will see more of the same from the man they brought in to start games such as this one.

From Tampa’s perspective, they too have just the right pitcher heading to the mound for them in this decisive Game 5. All season long, David Price has been among the top pitchers in baseball, and will find his name right near the top of voting for the AL Cy Young Award at the conclusion of the postseason.

Price was 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA in his stellar breakout campaign during his first full year as a Major League hurler, playing a significant role in helping the Rays to the best record in the AL.

Aside from his subpar Game 1 performance against Texas, Price only faced the Rangers one other time in 2010. He earned a no-decision in his lone start against them, pitching six innings, allowing two runs on five hits and five walks, while striking out eight. Though he didn’t walk a batter in Game 1, he’ll have to avoid command issues against a powerful Texas lineup that can thoroughly punish a pitcher if given too many opportunities.

Despite winning the first two games in Tampa, the AL West Champion Rangers were not known as road warriors in 2010, as they only had a 39-42 road record, worst among American League playoff teams. Price knows that the Ranger offense isn’t nearly as explosive on the road, and will look to exploit that weakness in order to lead his team to an ALCS clash with the Yankees.

Texas was the fourth-highest scoring AL team in 2010, but only seventh away from Arlington. Their second-ranked team OPS at home of .800, drops to a seventh-ranked .716 on the road.

In addition to his opponents’ struggles on the road, David Price finds himself exactly where he wants to be come Tuesday evening. During his young career at Tropicana Field, Price is 17-5 with a 2.32 ERA, with a 1.10 WHIP and a .206 batting average against.

He has been even better in 2010, going 9-2 with a 1.96 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and an opponents’ OPS of .589, while striking out 107 in 114.2 innings. To say he is comfortable pitching at the Trop may be an understatement.

With the series tied at two games apiece, each team is feeling confident with their ace headed to the hill in the decisive Game 5 om Tuesday. The prize for victory will be an American League Championship Series date with the Yankees, an opportunity both teams will relish as they each seek the first World Series titles in their respective franchise histories.

Before we look ahead to that however, we should sit back and enjoy a rematch of ALDS Game 1 starters, Cliff Lee and David Price, two men hit that sit right at the top of the list of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball today. Play ball!


Please check out my piece on Roy Halladay’s No-hitter and the 10 Greatest Pitching Performances of MLB Postseason History.

For further coverage of the Texas Rangers’s 2010 postseason run by Scott Gyurina please read my prior articles:

Texas Rangers Firing On All Cylinders Against Tampa Bay Rays

Texas Rangers Vs. Tampa Bay Rays Positional Matchups

Texas Rangers’ Pitching Well-Armed For Deep Playoff Run

Texas Rangers: 10 Reasons They Can Beat the Yankees in the Playoffs

Texas Rangers’ 3 Biggest Question Marks Heading Into October

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