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Desperate Rangers need Lee back in command for Game 5


ARLINGTON, Texas -- Think back to Game 1.

No, think back to before Game 1. Think back five days, and remember what you thought of Cliff Lee before this World Series began.

There's no reason to think anything different about him now.

He was the guy you would have trusted most to win a postseason game then. He should be the guy you would trust most to win a postseason game now.

None of that means that the Rangers are going to come back to win this World Series, now that they trail it three games to one after Sunday night's 4-0 Giants win. None of that means that the Rangers are even guaranteed to win Game 5 on Monday night.

What it does mean is this: If you've got to play a game knowing that your season ends if you lose, Cliff Lee is the guy you want to have on the mound.

That's not any less true because the Giants scored seven runs off Lee in Game 1. If anything, it's more true because the Giants scored seven runs off Lee in Game 1.

"I'm sure he's not happy about giving up seven the last time," Rangers outfielder Jeff Francoeur said Sunday night.

Even in the immediate aftermath of that uncharacteristic Game 1 loss, Rangers people were feeling pretty certain that a different Lee would show up for Game 5.

At the time, they had no way of knowing that Lee would be pitching to save their season. But even if they had, they would have been more convinced than ever.

"He's the type that usually steps up in those situations," Francoeur said. "He won Game 5 in Tampa. We're hoping he wins Game 5 here. Our goal has to be to wear our suits, and step on a plane for San Francisco [Monday] night."

Game 5 in Tampa was the decisive game in the Rangers' first-round series with the Rays. Matched up with David Price, Lee threw a 120-pitch complete game, with 90 strikes, to give the Rangers a 5-1 win.

There's another significant Game 5 in Lee's past, too. He started Game 5 of the World Series last year in Philadelphia, started for the home team with the Phillies down three games to one to the Yankees, just as he'll start for the Rangers at home down three games to one on Monday.

Last year, sure enough, Lee won Game 5, and while the stats show that he allowed five runs in seven innings, what he really did was hand the Phillies an 8-2 lead through seven, before the first three Yankees reached base (and eventually scored) in the eighth.

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It's worth pointing out that Lee's Phillies didn't win that World Series, that after Lee saved their season in Game 5, that season ended with Pedro Martinez getting shelled by Hideki Matsui and others two days later in New York.

It's worth pointing out that Lee's Rangers won't win this World Series if they don't start hitting, no matter how brilliant Lee might be in Game 5. The Rangers didn't hit Matt Cain on Thursday and they didn't hit Madison Bumgarner on Sunday, so there's absolutely no guarantee that they'll hit Tim Lincecum on Monday.

"We've run into a hot staff," hitting coach Clint Hurdle said. "We've run into a couple of buzz saws."

But as true as that is, and as much as the Rangers would still need to find a way to win two straight games at AT&T Park -- where they're 0-11 all-time -- their natural thought right now is that if they win Monday night, anything is possible.

"Everything revolves around Game 5," third baseman Michael Young said.

And that means everything revolves around Cliff Lee.

It's fitting, because so much has already revolved around Cliff Lee this postseason. The Yankees were happy to face the Twins in the first round because it meant avoiding Lee, the Rays would have gotten through the first round had they not lost two games to Lee, and Lee's presence hung over the AL Championship Series.

We've spent much of the last month talking about where Lee will go as a free agent when this season ends, and now here we are wondering if the season will end with the ball in his hand.

What does Lee think of that? I'd love to tell you what he said, but he dressed quickly and walked out of the Rangers clubhouse without saying a single word after Sunday's loss.

That's fine. I'm not sure what he needed to say.

He said Sunday afternoon that he wants to redeem himself for Game 1, which isn't exactly shocking news.

"You know, I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I've been working hard. It's basically the last start of the season for me, and I want to do everything I can to help this team win the World Series."

He also repeated what he had said after Game 1, that his problem last Wednesday was putting too many pitches in the middle of the plate, and that it wasn't any more complicated than that.

Given his history, and given how out of character that Game 1 start was, it's hard to believe that Lee won't pitch better Monday.

"He's a robot," rotation mate C.J. Wilson said. "He's the funniest robot ever, man."

He's not a robot. If anyone doubted it, Lee reminded us of that when he proved human last week.

But as we celebrate how well the Giants have pitched so far in this World Series, let's also remember that when the Series began, we all would have put Cliff Lee up there with anyone the Giants could send to the mound.

Not that much has changed in five days.

"I have confidence in every single one of our pitchers," Rangers catcher Bengie Molina said. "I have the confidence that we can win three [more] games. We have Lee, C.J. and Colby [Lewis]. I don't know the future, but I'm very confident.

"If anyone here isn't, then they should stay home."

I don't know the future, either, as so many Giants fans have pointed out over the last week. And no matter what I said before the World Series began, I'm not going to tell you now that I expect the Rangers to win it.

I will tell you that I expect Cliff Lee to pitch very well in Game 5. And so should you.

Not that much has changed.


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