ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Colby Lewis went to Japan expecting to finish his career there. Then after two seasons in the Far East, his original team offered him a chance to come back home and pitch.
Now Lewis could deliver the Texas Rangers their biggest victory in the franchise’s 50 seasons. Beat the New York Yankees in Game 6 of the AL championship series Friday night, and the Rangers are headed to their first World Series.
“Tell me that I’d be in this situation two years ago … I would have told you you’d be nuts,” Lewis said. “I’m totally grateful for it, and grateful for the opportunity that the Rangers gave me to come back and continue to prove my talents here in the States.”
Lewis beat the defending World Series champions in Game 2 last weekend, when Texas won a postseason game at home for the first time ever.
Game 6 is a rematch against All-Star right-hander Phil Hughes, who had been nearly flawless in Texas until it counted most.
And even if Lewis can’t get it done, the Rangers have Cliff Lee waiting to pitch a deciding Game 7 on Saturday night.
Lee struck out 13 Yankees in eight innings in Game 3. The ace left-hander also beat New York twice in last year’s World Series while pitching for Philadelphia.
“If you would have told us that we could have Cliff going in Game 5 down in Tampa, we would have taken it,” outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. “And if you told me we’d have to win one out of two at home with Colby and Cliff going, I’d take it even more.”
The Yankees pulled to 3-2 in the best-of-seven series and forced the ALCS back to Texas with a 7-2 victory in Game 5 on Wednesday.
New York was built to win another championship with a $200 million-plus payroll. The Yankees already have 27 World Series titles and 40 pennants, but haven’t overcome a 3-1 postseason deficit since 1958.
While the Yankees would prefer to erase memories of the 2004 ALCS, when they had a 3-0 series lead before the Boston Red Sox won four in a row, that does show anything is possible.
“I’d like to forget ’04, but if you remind me, there’s something to be said,” Alex Rodriguez said. “I mean, you have to win four games. Like the last three outs, the last game is always the toughest, on both teams.”
Texas has two chances at home to win its first AL pennant. The Rangers had never won a postseason series before the decisive Game 5 of the AL division series in Tampa Bay when Lee pitched a complete game.
The Yankees have to win Friday night to force a final game — or their season is over.
“You try to win one game, that’s all you can do. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves, just like I’m sure they have confidence in their team,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. “You have to take every game like it’s a Game 5 or a Game 7. Then if you’re in these kind of situations, nothing ever changes.”
The Yankees overcame a 5-0 deficit in the ALCS opener at Rangers Ballpark and won 6-5 last Friday. Texas took the next three, including Games 3 and 4 at Yankee Stadium.
These aren’t the same Rangers that the Bronx Bombers easily dismissed in 1996, 1998 and 1999 on the way to winning World Series titles each season.
“We know they have a great team over there,” Nick Swisher said. “And they’ve proven that to us.”
Back in Texas, where about three dozen Lone Star flags whip in the wind high above center field, more than 50,000 fans will gather under Friday night lights that in the Texas fall are usually reserved for high school football.
“These fans are going to be fired up. It will be like a football atmosphere out here, especially with the Cowboys not doing much,” Francoeur said. “We’re replacing them for a little bit, so it will be a great atmosphere and the fans will be behind us.”
Lewis was a supplemental first-round draft pick by the Rangers in 1999, the last season they made the playoffs before this year.
The right-hander won 10 games for Texas as a rookie in 2003, then was in the starting rotation to start 2004 before tearing the rotator cuff in his right shoulder. He missed the rest of that season and 2005 recovering from surgery, then pitched for Detroit and Oakland before going to Japan for the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Texas re-signed him last winter on a two-year deal worth at least $5 million with a club option for 2012. He was 12-13 with a 3.72 ERA in his 32 regular-season starts.
“We love playing behind Colby. He’s a lot like Cliff in the sense that he has a great tempo,” Michael Young said. “We couldn’t be more excited or more confident than to play behind Colby.”
Lewis limited New York to two runs over 5 2-3 innings in Game 2 after throwing five scoreless innings in his postseason debut against Tampa Bay.
Hughes had allowed only three hits in 15 1-3 scoreless innings his previous three games at Rangers Ballpark until last Saturday, when he gave up seven runs and 10 hits, seven for extra bases, in only four innings.
An 18-game winner in the regular season, Hughes hadn’t allowed that many runs all year. It matched his most hits allowed and was his second-shortest start.
“I expect him to have much better command of all of his stuff,” manager Joe Girardi said.
“We have utmost confidence in Phil. He’s done such a tremendous job and I know he’s chomping at the bit to get back out there,” Swisher said. “He definitely has a chance to redeem himself, and we’re right there behind him.”
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.