Landing ace in July lifted Rangers

NEW YORK — In any business, you have good days and bad days. Seldom, however, do days come along like the ones that Jon Daniels, Brian Cashman and their co-workers did back in July, when they battled over left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee and possibly a trip to the World Series.

There was nothing surprising about what Lee did on Monday night at Yankee Stadium. It's what he does when the money is on the line, and he does it over and over again.

But the fact that he threw this two-hit, 13-strikeout masterpiece in a gray, road uniform of the Texas Rangers, rather than the classic Yankees pinstripes, remains one of the most shocking chapters in modern baseball history.

In beating the Yankees 8-0 in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, Lee gave Texans another reason to circle July 9 on their calendar. That's the day Rangers general manager Daniels kept Lee out of the desperately grasping hands of Yankees GM Cashman, and in the process gave his franchise its first real chance to compete for a trip to the World Series.

A team that had won only one playoff game in its first 49 years leads the Yankees two games to one, and there are at least two other unpleasant aspects of the New York situation: the notably ineffective A.J. Burnett is scheduled to start Game 4 for the Yankees and the other-worldly Lee is on track to start a deciding seventh game.

There had been talk that the Yankees had found a new game plan to attack Lee after facing him unsuccessfully five times in the last year, including losses in Games 1 and 5 of the 2009 World Series, when Lee pitched for the Phillies.

Better luck next time.

Lee was as dialed in for his start against the Yankees as he had been the two against Tampa Bay, when his wins turned a first-round matchup that otherwise saw the Rays win two of three. He became the first pitcher to have three double-figure strikeout games in the same postseason, joining Bob Gibson as the only pitcher to do that in three consecutive post-season starts.

How did he get away from the Yankees, anyway?

Cashman was uncharacteristically willing to part with highly regarded prospects to get Lee, and on the night of July 8 felt he had reached an agreement with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik for a deal built around catcher Jesus Montero. But the guy Zduriencik really coveted was Justin Smoak, Texas' Triple-A first baseman.

"We always thought we were in second place," Daniels told Newsday's Ken Davidoff. "But we knew what we had to do to have the winning bid."

In earlier discussions about Lee, Daniels had made Smoak off-limits. But learning that a deal with the Yankees was imminent, he agreed to include him in a deal.

Ultimately Texas got Lee, reliever Mark Lowe and $2.25 million to help pay the $4 million Lee was owed for Smoak, pitchers Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke and second baseman Matt Lawson.

"It was more than I was willing to do," Cashman said.

The Yankees are expected to land Lee as a free agent this winter, the price estimated to be as high as $150 million over six years. But even if they don't keep him, the Rangers will always have their one ride with him, which could continue for some time.

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