The look on Nolan Ryan’s face toward the end of the top half of the eight inning said it all. What was happening was shocking, unfathomable and frustrating. Couldn’t any pitcher get a gosh darn out?

The occurrences of that inning were a reminder to the Texas Rangers, their fans and their gregarious owner and erstwhile pitcher of just what they were up against.

In an inning when the Rangers used five pitchers before an out was recorded, the Yankees showed the mettle that makes them the owners of 27 World Series Championships.

Having all that money can’t win championships. It helps, but money can’t go out on the field and perform. And for all the multi-million dollar studs that take the field for the Yankees each night, it was the only non multi-millionaire that made the hustle play that started off the five-run rally in the eighth.

No, Brett Gardner is not the personification of everything the Yankees stand for. Anyone would be foolish, and most likely crazy, to try and make such a sweeping, grandiose statement.

But Gardner does stand to remind those who are not Yankees fans—the people that will damn all logic by declaring that the Yankees only win because they spend money in one breath and with another say, “money can’t buy championships,” when they lose—that the commitment to excellence from the Yankees organization extends past opening up the coffers for big name free agents and onto the field.

And now the Texas Rangers are left aghast at the destruction the Yankees talent and determination has wrought on their playoff momentum.

However, it isn’t completely crushed just yet.

The Yankees saved that for this afternoon in Game 2.

A win today and the Yankees will have locked up the ALCS before it really got started, before Cliff Lee takes the mound.

In their entire history, the Rangers have never won a home playoff game. Imagine the demoralization the Rangers would undergo if the Yankees take the first two games of the series in Arlington before sending the series back to the Bronx?

If the Rangers hope to get a second home playoff victory this season, they better get their first this afternoon, because if the Yankees head to the Bronx for Games 3-5 with a 2-0 lead in the ALCS, they will not have to leave the confines of Yankee Stadium II before they get to pop champagne and celebrate their 41st AL Pennant.

Some will be quick to object, “but the Rangers have the indomitable Cliff Lee pitching in Game 3 and the Yankees have abominable A.J. Burnett pitching in Game 4.”

In Game 4, the Ranger will match up Tommy Hunter, and his 5.37 career road ERA, with Burnett.

And the psychological effect on Cliff Lee of dropping to 2-0 in the series against the Yankees cannot be discounted. Before the Rangers swooped in to steal Lee out from under the Yankees at midseason, it was said that Lee’s wife had contacted Amber Sabathia about potential houses in the New York area.

If the series is 2-0, nobody can deny that the little imp in the back of Lee’s mind will be telling him that it’s better to join them than face them, that if the Rangers are going to win this series it’s going to almost be by his efforts alone, that he is supremely jealous of the way the Yankees picked up CC Sabathia after he struggled in Game 1.

The Yankees recruit free agents harder than any other team. This ALCS, on top of being a series for the AL pennant, is a recruitment battle between the Yankees and Rangers for Lee’s services.

Last night was a statement in the battle, a clear unintentional message to Lee about the support the Yankees give their aces. An opening salvo in what will be contentious winter bidding that said, “not only do we have the money, but we have the legacy and mystique to confound even the greatest swings of momentum.”

If the Yankees win this afternoon in Arlington, Cliff Lee will have the weight of the Rangers’ season on his shoulders going into Game 3 in a hitter’s ballpark. He will also have the nagging thought that the dugout on the first base side of the stadium is the best place to be.

This is not to say that Cliff Lee won’t come out and pitch well, but all of this has to weigh him down. The Rangers can do their ace a gigantic favor by getting a win today.

However, that’s a tall order, because 31-year-old journeyman Colby Lewis is 0-2 with a 6.89 ERA in three career starts against the Yankees, while Phil Hughes has dominated the Texas Rangers, going 2-0 without surrendering a run in 15.1 innings of three-hit ball.

Unless Lewis is able to shut down the Yankees lineup, Ranger batters will have to respond with some run support against a pitcher who has completely owned them.

Much to the chagrin of the Rangers and the rest of Major League Baseball, the Yankees have to be favored in this game, they have to be favored for the rest of this series and they have to be favored in the race for Cliff Lee.

This afternoon the Yankees will take the field with a lot on the line, because a win here locks up the ALCS, and by extension, the battle with the Rangers for Cliff Lee’s services in 2011 and beyond.

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