Thursday night's meeting between the two best pitchers on the top two teams in the American League West showed exactly why the Rangers traded rookie first baseman Justin Smoak and three prospects to the Mariners for left-hander Cliff Lee two weeks ago.
The Rangers didn't feel they had a true top-of-the-rotation starter who could win a big game. Lee gives them just that. He allowed two runs and five hits in 8 1/3 to lead the Rangers to a 3-2 victory over the Angels at The Ballpark at Arlington. The victory gave the Rangers a six-game lead over the Angels in the division and they could effectively end the race by sweeping the four-game series and have a big leg up on winning the AL West if they can take three of four.
The performance was vintage Lee. He wasn't overpowering as his fastball ranged from 89-91 mph and he struck out just three batters. However, he carved up the Angels by consistently using his fastball to get ahead in the count. Lee threw first-pitch fastballs to 28 of the 30 hitters he faced and 19 of them were strikes.
Lee was also efficient, needing just 99 pitches to get 25 outs in becoming the first American League pitcher since Pat Hentgen of the 1996 Blue Jays to pitch into the ninth inning in six consecutive starts. The best part of all for the Rangers—and worst for the Angels—is that Lee is scheduled to pitch against Los Angeles/Anaheim/Orange County three more times this season.