ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Rays manager Joe Maddon spoke matter-of-factly, assessing Tampa Bay's chances of completing an improbable comeback against the Texas Rangers in the opening round of the AL playoffs.
Down, 2-0, after losing the first two games of the series at home, the AL East champions rebounded to win the next two on the road and force a deciding Game 5 tonight at Tropicana Field.
Postseason ace-for-hire Cliff Lee will start for Texas, hoping to finish what he started with a dominating performance in Game 1.
The Rangers built on the 5-1 victory and were five outs from their first postseason series win before the sputtering Rays - in Maddon's words - got their "mojo" back.
"Getting ahead is really a big component in this series," said Maddon, who will send 19-game winner David Price to the mound in a rematch of the starting pitchers from the opener.
The Rays, who had the AL's best record this season, are trying to become the sixth team in major league history to win a postseason series after losing the first two games at home. The 2001 New York Yankees were the last to do it (and the only ones to rally in a best-of-five playoff), bouncing back against Oakland.
Maddon likes Price's chances of completing the task, even though the 25-year-old was outpitched by Lee in Game 1.
"He was not satisfied in what he did that first game. I know him, he took a lot of that on himself," Maddon said. "But I do believe any kind of mistakes he thought he made, he's not going to make them in Game 5. He's got the ability, both mentally and physically, to make the corrections, so that's what I see from David. I see a very, very good performance."
The Rangers are the only current major league franchise that has never won a playoff series. They outscored the Rays, 11-1, in the first two games and led in the eighth inning of Game 3 before Tampa Bay fought back.
Lee, the former Phillie obtained from Seattle in early July with this type of situation in mind, is 5-0 with a 1.52 ERA in six career postseason starts.
The 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in the postseason for the Phillies last October, including a pair of wins over the Yankees in the World Series.
Lee said he doesn't feel extra pressure over the Rangers' history of postseason futility.
"What has happened is in the past," he said. "They could have had 60 World Series rings and that's not going to change the way I am approaching this season and this postseason . . . We want to get a ring, period. Regardless of whether they've done it every season up until now or never done it before."
Lee allowed one run and five hits, walked none and matched his postseason best of 10 strikeouts in Game 1. He doesn't plan to change much for Game 5.
"I am really a guy that goes out there and makes pitches and sees how the hitter swings at them and makes adjustments on the fly," Lee said. "Obviously, I will have a game plan and what I did last time, a lot of that worked. So they will have to prove to me that they are making adjustments before I will make a big adjustment. That's how I have always pitched." *