10/02/10 9:21 PM ET
It doesn't get much better than Lee vs. Price
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Two of those four will be engaged in an old-fashioned showdown on Wednesday at Tropicana Field in Game 1 of what promises to be a rousing American League Division Series.
While the Rays haven't announced their rotation for the series nor the order, it's expected that Price and Lee, carrying the banners and hopes of AL East champion Tampa Bay and AL West kingpin Texas, respectively, will likely match heat and precision in what shapes up as a classic confrontation.
Both clubs are hoping to be at close to full strength with the return from injuries of marquee stars. Evan Longoria, the Rays' dynamic third baseman, is expected to be recovered from his quad ailment, while Josh Hamilton, the Rangers' AL MVP candidate, showed the Angels over the weekend that his bat can still sing after missing 24 games with two small fractures in his rib cage.
Lee, acquired from the Mariners on July 9 in a six-player swap, established himself as a big-game pitcher with few peers last October with the Phillies. He was 4-0 in five postseason starts, his team winning all five. In 40 1/3 innings, he yielded 27 hits and six walks, striking out 33.
Price also has impressive October credentials, but in a different role. During the Rays' magical ride to the 2008 World Series, the kid from Vanderbilt University fashioned a 1.59 ERA in five relief appearances.
He is best remembered for getting the final four outs -- three on third strikes -- in a 3-1 Game 7 triumph over the Red Sox. It was merely the biggest game in franchise history.
A starter now with Cy Young Award-worthy numbers, Price was named the AL's All-Star Game starter and came through with two impressive innings.
The big stage, clearly, doesn't bother the 6-foot-6, 220-pound athlete from Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Lee is also a native of the South from Benton, Ark. He is, by most statistical measures, the most precise pitcher on the planet. In 212 1/3 innings this season, he walked 18 batters while striking out 185. Nobody is even remotely close to that strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
"He's kind of like the impact player you need this time of year," Rangers veteran southpaw Darren Oliver said of Lee. "You'd rather have him on your team than against you.
"He's a carefree guy. It's like he's playing Wiffle Ball in the neighborhood. It's how he rolls. If you have success with it, why change?"
Price takes a more intense approach, creating a fascinating contrast in personal styles.
For Price and Lee, this is the reprisal of a recent matchup that went to the Rays, 6-4. Price went six innings, yielding two earned runs on five hits and five walks, striking out eight. He was not involved in the decision when Tampa Bay rallied late against Lee.
Lee lasted 7 2/3 innings, giving up six earned runs on nine hits. He walked one and struck out 10, taking the loss after the Rays scored twice in the eighth inning.
The Rays also pinned a loss on Lee while he was with Seattle, a 2-1 decision. Lee went eight innings and was touched for five hits and two earned runs, again striking out 10 while walking one.
Lee has a history of tying up the Rays' primary threats. Longoria is hitting .167 against him with one extra-base hit, a double, in 18 at-bats. Crawford is batting .241 with a triple in 29 at-bats. B.J. Upton (.333, 21 at-bats), Ben Zobrist (.308, 13 at-bats) and Carlos Pena (three homers but only a .207 average) have solved Lee at times.
Price has had relatively limited dealings with the Rangers' hitters. Michael Young is 2-for-7 with five RBIs, and Nelson Cruz is 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs. Hamilton has struggled against Price, going 1-for-6 with two strikeouts. Vladimir Guerrero is 2-for-7 against the Rays' ace.
One must for the Rangers is forgetting regular-season horrors indoors. They were 0-3 inside the Trop, taking two of three in the great outdoors of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.