ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 22: Pitcher Cliff Lee #33 of the Texas Rangers throws against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on July 22, 2010 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Cliff Lee
Cliff Lee has no interest in discussing his accomplishments thus far -- all the strikeouts to so few walks, all the outings he's worked deep into games. Nah, not yet. He wants to pitch the Texas Rangers into the playoffs before anything else. Lee went at least eight innings for the 10th straight start, Taylor Teagarden hit a two-run homer and the first-place Rangers built their biggest division lead in 11 years with a 5-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.
"I'm not going to sit here and pat myself on the back for anything," Lee said. "I just want to give my team a chance to win every time I take the mound." Lee (10-5), who won for the first time in three starts, struck out eight and didn't walk a batter in eight innings. The Rangers moved a season-best 19 games over .500 (64-45).
Josh Hamilton added a solo homer for the Rangers in the opener of a key series between the AL West's top two teams. Texas won its third straight and increased its division lead to 9½ games ahead of the A's. This marks the Rangers' largest division lead since being 10 games up late in the 1999 season. They won the West that year by eight games over Oakland at 95-67.
"You can't take anything for granted," Lee said. "There's still a lot of season left. We want to clinch it as soon as we can. But a lot of things can happen. We can't get complacent or content." Lee quickly found his groove after falling behind in the first. He gave up a one-out triple to Daric Barton in the first, then Kurt Suzuki followed with an RBI double to give Oakland the early lead. After Barton's one-out single in the third, he retired 16 of the next 17 batters before consecutive two-out singles by Barton and Suzuki.
Lee received a mound visit from pitching coach Mike Maddux, then struck out Kevin Kouzmanoff. Frank Francisco worked the ninth to finish the 2-hour, 19-minute game. At 112 pitches, manager Ron Washington decided Lee was done. "He didn't need to go back out there. He's our horse, but we've also got to protect him when we can," Washington said. "What's marvelous is you know what's coming and you still can't do a heck of a lot with it. That's a model pitcher right there."
Lee didn't walk a batter for the 12th time in 19 starts. He has allowed only nine free passes all season while striking out 126. He was coming off a 4-1 loss his last time out Sunday against the Angels in Anaheim despite his career-best seventh complete game of the year. The lefty has thrown at least eight innings in all five of his starts since joining the Rangers in a trade from the Mariners on July 9.
During this three-game winning streak, the Rangers have scored 22 runs on 33 hits after managing only five runs and 14 hits in their previous three contests. "This team's got one goal right now: to get to the playoffs," Teagarden said. "That's a nice lead but there are a lot of games left." A's starter Dallas Braden (6-8), coming off a complete game win over the White Sox in Chicago last Saturday, was done after six innings after complaining of a tender jaw following a dental procedure earlier in the week.
He was trying to win third straight start after a nine-start winless stretch in which he went 0-5 after his improbable perfect game against the Rays on May 9.
"I've had the procedure a couple of times," Braden said. "I already marked that one off my list. It's a tooth on my right side and I had it taken out Tuesday. It was to the point where when I took a breath in the fourth inning the cold hit the area and my head was pounding and my neck was tight. Those are all side notes though. I was unimpressive at best."
A's reliever Brad Ziegler had trouble in the eighth. He wildly threw past first on a pickoff attempt for a two-base error that put Elvis Andrus on third. Andrus then scored on a balk by Ziegler, the first of his career. Andrus had an earlier RBI double for the Rangers. Boof Bonser pitched the ninth for the A's in his Oakland debut.