The daylight has done little, if anything, to weaken my aura of disbelief. I think back to the years of utter hopelessness (2000-03), the years when the Rangers were perpetually projected for 90-plus losses (and with good cause), and then to the years of borderline contention (2004-06) where it was apparent Texas had something, but not enough of it to get to where they wanted to go, and then to the bridge years (2007-08) when the Rangers decisively shifted their priorities back towards building a sustainable powerhouse instead of a fringe contender, and how the overarcing objective in everything the Rangers have ever done was to experience nights like last night.
I also think back to the quote uttered by Chuck Greenberg during last night's jubilant clubhouse bedlam: "People talk about momentum [in baseball]. Momentum is your next starting pitcher, and we had Cliff Lee. We had momentum." You've probably already read somewhere today that only four other pitchers in post-season history -- Deacon Phillippe (1903), Don Newcombe (1949), Tom Seaver (1973), and Sterling Hitchcock (1997) -- had posted even a single start where they logged at least 10 strikeouts and yielded no walks, and that Cliff Lee has now accomplished that feat four times, but here's some deeper scouting-based insight on Lee's historic Game 5 effort from resident BBTiA scouting guru Jason Parks:
[Lee] started out slow, relying heavily on his two-seamer and cutter, trying to establish the hard stuff the first time through the order. While Lee was able to locate his cutter to both sides of the plate, he often elevated his fastball, running the pitch into the upper quadrant and into the wheelhouse of the hitter. More often than not, the Rays failed to make hard contact, allowing Lee the time to fine-tune his fastball command, and to establish a script that he would work off of the rest of the game.
The second time through the order, Lee started working his loopy 11-to-5 curveball (usually thrown in the 75-77 mph range), which was his money pitch [last night]. Lee had the Rays looking fastball/cutter, and used the curveball as his wipeout pitch, showing so much command with it that he was able to slip the pitch into the lower/outside of the zone, freezing the hitter. It was very impressive.
After showing the Rays the power of the curveball, Lee once again used the cutter -- which he commanded well all night, to keep the hitters guessing, most often resulting in weak contact -- or a scripted sequence that saw Lee set up with the cutter, and then use a change-up or curveball to disrupt the timing of the hitter. After Lee got into a rhythm, the Rays had no chance. In fact, if you consider the fact that Lee didn’t have great command over his fastball (missing spots, not necessarily throwing balls), the Rays did as much to help Lee as Lee did to disrupt them; they never really adjusted to Lee and seemed to look fastball, even after the secondary pitches were established.
All in all, I thought Lee pitched very well. He didn’t have the fastball command he is known for, but it's almost silly to critique, because the fastball still served its purpose, and his cutter and curveball were executed to perfection. I didn’t think he needed to pitch the 9th, but the Rays had given up at the point, and Lee was the reason they were already planning their off-seasons; might as well let the ace stand on the hill to receive the celebration.
I've written at some length about Lee's devastating cutter before (and in fact seem to possess an unhealthy fascination with the pitch, perhaps due to its power-suppressing properties), but here again it deserves some love: last night, Lee threw 33 of his 38 cutters for strikes (86.8 percent), and generated nine swinging strikes (23.7 percent), both of which are inherently monstrous numbers. According to the run expectancy matrix employed by Brooks Baseball, this particular pitch was 2.6 runs above average last night alone; that's on par with Tim Lincecum's slider during his historic 31-swinging strike start on October 7th, and better than any single pitch employed by Roy Halladay during his no-hit effort.
No matter what else happens in this post-season, and regardless of whether the Rangers succeed in their aim to re-sign Lee, he's earned a special place in baseball immortality, and cult-hero status among a sizable contingent of Rangers fans who are never going to forget the past week -- the week that the Rangers officially arrived.