Rangers blow chance to close out series

NEW YORK -- There are several cardinal rules to follow in the postseason. One is to never, ever, under any circumstances buy Cubs World Series tickets, no matter how enticing the price, even if Chicago leads a five-game championship series 2-0 or a seven-game series 3-1. Another is do not promise you'll pick up your spouse at the airport the night of a Yankees game unless the flight arrives at least five hours after the first pitch. A third is to be very wary of relentless commercials promoting new shows with Frank Caliendo or George Lopez (we'll see what sort of VORP Conan O'Brien has this fall).

The postseason's No. 1 rule, though, is put the Yankees away for good when you have the chance. Because if you don't, you are certain to regret it. As soon as the Yankees get a chance, they will remove the stake from their heart, rise from their coffin, darken the skies and feast upon the blood of teams with low payrolls and other innocents.

They did it again Wednesday, recovering from three consecutive losses to soundly beat the Rangers 7-2 in Game 5 at Yankee Stadium. The Rangers return home with a 3-2 series lead and Cliff Lee ready if necessary for a possible Game 7, so the odds are still with them. But a 3-2 lead just never seems quite so imposing against the Yankees.

When a reporter said the Rangers were still in a pretty comfortable position, manager Ron Washington said, "Comfort? You're never comfortable because you never know what's going to happen from day to day. We will be ready to go Friday, and go out and give it our best and at the end of nine just hope we have more runs than they do.''

The Rangers were in this position in the AL Division Series when they took a 2-0 lead over Tampa Bay before needing the final three games to finally finish off the Rays. Wednesday's Game 5 starter C.J. Wilson, however, discounted any lessons learned from that.

"People who aren't on the field overemphasize the last game, but the reality is it's one game you have to win,'' Wilson said. "It's not like you go out there and say, 'We have so much momentum, we'll just take our hats off and roll the ball out there.' You have to go out there and get 27 outs.''

Well, Wilson and the Rangers will see whether they will get that fourth victory in this American League Championship Series to reach their first World Series. As it was, the Yankees drained Wilson of his blood before the fifth inning was over Wednesday. Wilson held the Yankees to three runs in seven innings in Game 1, but he dug the Rangers into an early 5-0 grave Wednesday. He walked four batters, allowed two home runs and also made an errant throw to let in a run. Asked what frustrated him about his performance, Wilson said, "How much time do you have?''

"Let's see,'' he went on. "I had a couple bad walks, that's frustrating. The broken bats went for hits, that's frustrating. I didn't get ahead in the count, that's frustrating. What else do you need? All that stuff mixed together adds up to a lot of runs allowed.''

This is no time to panic, however. The series now shifts to Texas, where the Rangers have Lee ready to go if a seventh game is necessary. Colby Lewis will oppose Phil Hughes and the Yankees in Game 6 on Friday. Having Lee is such a good insurance policy it's a wonder there aren't about a dozen commercials per game with him, featuring some bearded cavemen and a little green gecko.

Plus, despite scoring just two runs Wednesday, the Rangers are still hitting well. Texas had 13 hits Wednesday, 11 in the first six innings off Yankees starter CC Sabathia. Heck, even catcher Matt Treanor hit a home run. The problem was they couldn't get the big hit when they needed it, grounding into two double plays, stranding eight baserunners and getting a runner picked off second base.

"You know baseball, there are going to be times when it just doesn't happen and today was one of those days,'' outfielder Jeff Francoeur said. "The only good thing to come out of this for me is that we had [13] hits, we hit the ball hard and it's not like all of a sudden we got one hit today. So we're still swinging the bats well going back to Texas and we do score runs and we do play well in Texas. It will be a good opportunity to go and get this series over."

Oh, and did I mention Cliff Lee is available for Game 7?

"We won three games in a row,'' Francouer said. "It's tough to ask a team to beat the Yankees four games in a row. We did what we wanted to up here. We took two out of three and we get to go home. If you told me we could go home with Colby and Cliff on the mound and all we had to do was win one, we'd take it.''

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.