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The Key to Texas Ranger Cliff Lee’s Success

The star pitcher finds hope and faith in his son, Jaxon

Cliff Lee

A must-win situation. That was what every baseball fan felt, as Texas left-hander strode to the mound last week at Yankee Stadium, with the American League Championship Series tied at one win apiece. In order for Texas to beat the Yankees and advance to the World Series, Cliff Lee, the Rangers’ best pitcher, would need to pitch the game of his life.

On TV, Lee looked cool as could be. Unruffled. Sanguine. He stared in at the Yankee captain, Derek Jeter. Dropped back on his left leg and began his pneumonic motion. The ball hurried to the plate. Not as fast as balls thrown by some pitchers, but with startling accuracy. It buzzed the far corner of the plate. Jeter watched it go by. Strike one.

He threw like that all game long. Eight innings, no runs, two hits, 13 strikeouts. His Rangers won, 8-0, giving the team a 2-1 lead in the series and a belief that they could knock off the heavily favored Yankees.

Afterward, in a post-game interview, Lee seemed as unflappable as he had been on the mound. “You ask me how he keeps so calm,” his wife Kristen had told the Dallas Morning News a few days earlier. “I think it’s because he knows that baseball isn’t life or death.”

Nine years ago when Lee was in the low minors, his son, Jaxon, then 4 months old, was diagnosed with leukemia and given a 30 percent chance to live. Over the next months, the infant endured chemotherapy, radiation and a stem-cell transplant.

"Seeing your child almost die is the second-worst thing that can happen, next to losing your child," Kristen said.

Nothing in baseball has shaken Lee since. That Monday night Jaxon, now 9 and completely healthy, watched his father pitch the best game of both their lives.

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