ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Now that the Texas Rangers have finally won a postseason series for the first time, they get to play the team that has won more than any other.
Bring on the New York Yankees, who have 27 World Series titles and 40 pennants.
“We feel like we can play baseball with anyone,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said Wednesday. “We only can blaze our own trail right now, and every time we do something that’s good, it adds to the history of the Texas Rangers.”
Game 1 of the AL championship series is Friday night at Rangers Ballpark.
Things are much different for the Rangers than in the last half of the 1990s, when in their only three previous playoff appearances they were knocked out in the first round by the Yankees. New York went on to win the World Series each time, and has a nine-game postseason winning streak against Texas.
“This is a different group of guys, and they have a lot of confidence,” Washington said. “We’re not shocked by anything. We’re here because we believe and belong here.”
These Rangers can run. They can pitch. And they can still slug.
Texas clinched the AL division series against Tampa Bay with a 5-1 victory in Game 5 on Tuesday night. Twice, runners scored from second base on infield grounders. Nelson Cruz stole third with two outs in another inning and scored on a throwing error, and ace left-hander Cliff Lee finished a six-hitter after Ian Kinsler’s two-run homer in the top of the ninth.
“We’re confident. We don’t care who we go up against,” said Michael Young, the longest-tenured Rangers player in his 10th season. “We know we’re good and we believe in ourselves.”
New York and Texas split eight meetings during the regular season, but the Rangers won four of five at home with a three-game sweep last month. The AL West champions have home-field advantage over the wild-card Yankees in the league championship series.
“The three games we played them here in September,” Washington said, “proved that we could play with those guys.”
New York worked out Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, trying to stay sharp four days after wrapping up its division series with a three-game sweep of Minnesota. The Twins, like Texas, have lost nine straight postseason games against New York.
“We played the Yankees well and so I think that we can meet the Yankees head on and compete with them. Normally in this league you pretty much have to go through New York if you’re going to go somewhere past this,” said Rangers president Nolan Ryan, the Hall of Fame pitcher who became part-owner this summer. “So, I think our guys anticipated that and I think they’re ready for it.”
Texas players got the day off, but there was still plenty of activity at Rangers Ballpark.
Colby Lewis, the scheduled starter for Game 2, tossed a few balls in the outfield with his 3½-year-old son. Stadium workers painted AL championship series logos on the field in foul territory along the first- and third-base lines.
Outside, some fans were already lined up near a box office waiting for World Series tickets to go on sale Sunday.
The Rangers have to get past the Yankees for those tickets to be useful.
Lee was acquired from Seattle on July 9 for games just like Tuesday night, when the left-hander struck out 11 while improving to 6-0 with a 1.44 ERA and three complete games in seven career postseason starts (five for Philadelphia last year and now two for the Rangers).
“He did exactly what I used to watch him do when I was sitting at home during the playoffs,” Washington said.
Since Lee had to save the Rangers in a deciding Game 5 against Tampa Bay, after they lost both games at home, he won’t pitch against the Yankees until Game 3 in New York on Monday night.
But that also puts Lee in position to pitch another potential decider, Game 7 of the AL championship series, if necessary. Or the first game of the World Series if the Rangers can beat the Yankees in fewer games.
Lee was 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA against the Yankees in last year’s World Series, when New York won the other four games against the Phillies. Philadelphia is in the NL championship series again this season against San Francisco.
Left-hander C.J. Wilson starts Game 1 for Texas against CC Sabathia. Wilson won 15 games during the regular season, and Game 2 of the AL division series at Tampa Bay, but was 0-1 with a 5.65 ERA (nine earned runs in 14 1-3 innings) in three starts against the Yankees.
After Wilson, it’s Lewis, who was drafted by the Rangers in 1999 — the last season they had been to the playoffs until now. Lewis won 10 games as a rookie in 2003, then tore his rotator cuff, was claimed by another team and spent the last two seasons in Japan before rejoining Texas last winter.
“They may be first-time starters in a postseason championship series, but they’ve thrown some tough ballgames for us during the year,” Washington said. “So they’re battle-tested and they’ve taken us to the point where we are, helped us get here. And we expect them to help us get further.”
AP Baseball Writer Fred Goodall in St. Petersburg, Fla., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.