With a chance to clinch the American League Division Series last year, the Texas Rangers opted not to give a start to the franchise’s all-time leader in postseason wins and ERA.
Instead, right-hander Colby Lewis pitched out of the bullpen as left-handers Martin Perez and Derek Holland took on a Toronto Blue Jays lineup loaded with right-handed hitters.
The Rangers lost the series in five games.
That’s not to say that Lewis would have fared any better than Perez or Holland, but he would have liked to have had the chance. Given a do-over, manager Jeff Banister would have gone to the veteran who led the Rangers in wins, innings and starts in 2015.
Lewis won’t be skipped in this ALDS, and the stakes in his Game 3 start Sunday couldn’t be higher. The Rangers need to win to avoid their season coming to an end, and Lewis, who five and six years ago started some of the biggest games in Rangers’ postseason history, wants the ball.
“I don’t feel like it’s a burden. I feel like it’s an opportunity,” Lewis said Saturday before the Rangers’ afternoon workout at Rogers Centre.
“Just like going to Japan or anything like that in my career, I feel like it’s an opportunity for me to go out, perform, see what I can do and embrace it. So, there’s no extra added pressure or anything like that.”
Lewis is 4-1 with a 2.38 ERA in the postseason in his career. He beat the New York Yankees twice in the 2010 AL Championship Series, including the Game 6 clincher, and was the only starter to beat the San Francisco Giants in the World Series.
His win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 3 of the 2011 ALDS left him as the fourth pitcher in MLB history to allow two runs or few with at least five innings in each of his first five postseason starts.
Lewis started twice in the 2011 World Series, and twice took no-decisions. The Rangers ended up winning Game 2, and he put the Rangers in a position to win the championship in the ill-fated Game 6.
He hasn’t started a playoff game since and only worked once in relief last year.
“I think, for me, I’m not really too concerned with postseason appearances or anything like that,” Lewis said. “I’m just going to stick with my game plan. You guys know me well enough to where I’m going to go out there and compete and have a good time.”
Banister said that Lewis earned the start based on his early-season performance and his ability to come back from a strained right oblique muscle over the final month of the season.
Lewis didn’t pitch particularly well in four September starts, going 0-4 with a 6.38 ERA, but he reached the seventh inning and surpassed 100 pitches in his final start. Though he allowed four runs, none of them was earned in a loss to Tampa Bay.
And last year?
“Look, there are a lot of decisions in this seat that I sit in that it’s a learned process,” Banister said. “Do we make different decisions? Obviously, given a second opportunity. So, yeah.”
The Rangers find themselves down 2-0 to the Blue Jays in the best-of-five series after aces Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish combined to allow 11 earned runs in 8 1/3 innings in Games 1 and 2. The offense started to find its footing in Game 2, rattling off 13 hits but only two in 18 tries with runners in scoring position in a 5-3 loss.
The team flew Friday night to Toronto, and the players had a chance to decompress some over a nice meal and a good night’s sleep. Banister didn’t see any panic or nervousness as he looked over his players in the clubhouse and during the workout.
There’s also confidence in Lewis, who started the season 6-0 and was 6-1 with a 3.21 ERA before hitting the disabled list June 22.
Elvis Andrus, the shortstop on the 2010 and 2011 World Series teams, remembers Lewis’ gutsy performances well and believes the Rangers have the right guy with the right demeanor pitching to save their season Sunday night.
“He’s been the best pitcher for this franchise in the postseason,” Andrus said. “I feel really good seeing Colby out there on the mound. He’s done it before. He’s going to be calm. He’s going to give you everything he’s got.”
Lewis wants the ball.
“I don’t feel like anything changes for me,” Lewis said. “It’s another baseball game to me. I’ve got to go out there, compete, keep my team in the game and make my pitches.”
Rangers vs. Blue Jays
(all games on TBS)
Gm 1: Blue Jays 10, Rangers 1
Gm 2: Blue Jays 5, Rangers 3
Gm 3: at Toronto, 6:38 p.m. today
Gm 4: at Toronto, 12:08 or 5:08 p.m. Monday*
Gm 5: at Texas, 7:08 or 8:38 p.m. Wednesday*
at Blue Jays
6:38 p.m. Sunday, TBS
Rangers RHP Colby Lewis (6-5, 3.71 ERA) at Blue Jays RHP Aaron Sanchez (15-2, 3.00)
Radio: KRLD/1080 AM; KFLC/1270 AM (Spanish)