ARLINGTON, Texas – Cliff Lee was steaming.
He thought he'd thrown strike three to Derek Jeter, not ball four. He knew the walk meant he was coming out of the game. So, off he stomped — not even bothering to savor having allowed a mere two hits over eight-plus innings in his first start since getting an injection in his back.
Then Neftali Feliz struck out the side and Lee's mood brightened. He leaped over the dugout railing with a big smile to celebrate a 4-1 victory over the New York Yankees on Sunday that wrapped up a sweep in a series between division leaders and potential first-round playoff foes.
"Every time he has the ball, he doesn't expect to be anything less than that, and we don't really expect it out of him," said Ian Kinsler, who turned a walk into Texas' first run. "It's just nice having him back on the field and healthy."
Lee (11-8) looked like the ace the Rangers expected when they gave up a top prospect for what could be a half-season rental, and nothing like the guy who had a 9.00 ERA over his last four starts.
He opened the game by walking Jeter, then wiped him out by getting speedy Curtis Granderson to hit into a double play. He retired the next 14 batters, too. With one out in the sixth, the Yankees hadn't gotten the ball out of the infield.
Eduardo Nunez broke up the no-hit bid with a line drive to center field, then scored on a single by Jeter. Lee recovered, though, retiring seven in a row before opening the ninth inning with the leadoff walk to Jeter that prompted a rare display of emotion from a guy who hates to come out of any game, especially against the Yankees.
"He came after us like he always does," said New York's Jorge Posada, who went 0 for 3. "He's a good pitcher who comes after you and puts the ball where he wants to."
Lee said his back "felt fine, not restricting at all." Rather having a particular pitch working, it was his location — low and on the corners. He was especially glad to help the AL West leaders inch closer to their first division title since 1999. This was their fifth straight win since losing five in a row.
"Hopefully we can keep this momentum," he said.
The Yankees lost for the sixth time in seven games and were swept in a three-game series for the first time since July 2009 at Anaheim. They kept a half-game lead in the AL East because second-place Tampa Bay lost 5-4 to Toronto. The Yankees play a three-game series at the Rays starting Monday night.
"I feel good about this team," manager Joe Girardi said. "We've worked hard to where we are, we still have some baseball left, and I firmly believe we'll play well down the stretch. ... We lost three tough games, that's the bottom line. We had a chance to win two of them. It's going to happen during a season."
Yankees starter Dustin Moseley (4-3) was just as stingy as Lee during his first two times through the order but couldn't keep it going.
Given a 1-0 lead in the sixth, he allowed a run in the bottom of the inning without a hit — a walk by Elvis Andrus, a steal, a fly ball and a fielder's choice in which Andrus beat a throw to the plate. The Rangers broke it open with three runs in the seventh, starting with Kinsler walking, moving to third on a pair of fly balls, then scoring on Julio Borbon's surprise bunt and a headfirst slide into first that barely beat Moseley to the bag.
"I knew I had a pretty good chance of seeing something offspeed, which is a really good pitch to bunt and bring with you," said Borbon, a left-handed hitter who dragged the ball down the first-base line.
The pitching duel was quite a finish to a tight, tense series.
Texas Rangers won the opener 6-5 in 13 innings, then won 7-6 Saturday night when Yankees closer Mariano Rivera hit a batter with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. The series drew 137,396 fans, second-most for a three-game series in Rangers history.
The first two games were taxing for everyone as they lasted a combined 9-plus hours while burning through 33 pitchers. So both starters went out knowing they had to soak up innings.
Moseley lasted 6 2-3, getting tagged for four runs on five hits. He walked two and struck out one. Both walks turned into runs.
"I would have loved to match Cliff the whole way, but the leadoff walks hurt me," Moseley said.
Lee threw 109 pitches, striking out five. Feliz struck out the final three batters for his 36th save in 39 chances, leaving him one shy of the major league saves record for a rookie.
NOTES: Yankees RF Nick Swisher was a late scratch because of a bruised left knee. He says it's not healing and doesn't know if he'll be able to play against the Rays. "The injury is starting to affect other parts of my body and I have to compensate to move," he said. ... Lee had only seven unintentional walks in 11 previous starts for Texas. ... Andrus reached 30 steals for a second straight year, the first Rangers player to do so since Tom Goodwin in 1998-99.