“A twist of fate for Lee, Yankees and Rangers”

McClatchy-Tribune

ARLINGTON, Texas — If not for Justin Smoak, Cliff Lee could be pitching for the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

Instead, he is pitching for the Texas Rangers.

According to media reports on July 8, the Yankees were on the verge of acquiring the former Phillies lefthander in a trade with the Seattle Mariners.

But the next day, the Rangers acquired Lee for four players; Smoak, a first baseman and the 11th overall pick in the 2008 draft, was the centerpiece of the deal.

This postseason, Lee has already thrown two masterpieces, going 2-0 as the Rangers won the American League division series, besting Tampa Bay in five games.

Lee will not pitch when the Yankees and Rangers begin the ALCS on Friday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. He will start Game 3 Monday at Yankee Stadium.

Lee was acquired along with pitcher Mark Lowe in exchange for Smoak and three minor-league players: righthanders Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke and infielder Matt Lawson.

The Yankees had offered three prospects, but Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said he never had a deal and had continued to negotiate with teams.

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels admitted that he tried to offer options other than dealing Smoak.

“”I did feel like (the night before the trade), we might be in second place,”” Daniels said Thursday during the team’s afternoon workout. “”But we had an idea what put us in first place and knew what that package had to look like talent-wise.””

Smoak batted .209 with eight home runs and 34 RBI for Texas before the trade. In 30 games for Seattle, he batted .239 with five home runs and 14 RBIs.

The night before the trade, Lee was obviously following the rumor mill.

“”I saw what everyone else saw on ESPN, and it seemed like it was close to happening (with the Yankees),”” Lee said. “”Obviously, it didn’t and nothing is final until it’s final, and that is definitely one thing I learned from this game.””

Obviously, the Yankees were interested in those early reports.

“”No question, our team was very excited when we were hearing perhaps (Lee) could come our way,”” Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. “”When he didn’t, my initial thought was: These guys are going to be a major threat in October.””

Rodriguez knows firsthand. In the 2009 World Series with the Phillies, Lee went 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA against the Yankees. He struck out 13 and walked three in 16 innings.

“”It was fun; it was my first time in the postseason,”” Lee said. “”It’s where you want to be.””

Lee will be a free agent after this season. Daniels hopes to re-sign him but says he does not want to negotiate with the lefthander until after the season. If Lee does not re-sign with the Rangers, they will receive two high draft picks as compensation.

“”We were comfortable if we got Mark Lowe, 21/2 months plus a potential postseason with Cliff Lee, and the two draft picks,”” Daniels said. “”We had to be comfortable with the deal to make the deal.””

They are even more comfortable now that Lee has pitched the Rangers into the ALCS.

Friday’s matchup. New York’s CC Sabathia will oppose C.J. Wilson in the opener.

Wilson, a converted reliever, went 15-8 with a 3.35 ERA in the regular season and won his first postseason start in the division series against Tampa Bay.

Sabathia was 21-7 with a 3.18 ERA and won his lone start in the ALDS sweep of the Minnesota Twins.

When the lefthanded Wilson was asked about the influence of Lee, he quipped, “”Before he was here, I was actually a righthanded second baseman.