Lee’s stellar pitching lifts Texas, but free agency is looming

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After the Rangers clinched the pennant with a Game 6 win against the Yankees, Lee was mobbed by reporters on the field, even though he did not pitch. He was scheduled for a potential Game 7. No matter, he was the one everyone wanted.

The main line of questioning: With a pennant in hand, will he turn his back on the Yankees and other deep-pocketed clubs come free agency this offseason?

“I love this city,” Lee says. “I love my teammates. It’s going to be a good team for years to come. For my family, this couldn’t be a better situation.

“Free agency is when a player finally gets a choice, and I’m looking forward to that. There are so many things that can happen. I’m just more focused on helping this team win a World Series.”

Then came the words that the Rangers will hang onto.

“If we do that,” Lee says, “it would be hard to walk away.”

It has been long assumed that Lee, who is earning $9.6 million this season, would end up a Yankee, given that they spent $243.5 million on two starters the last time they failed to reach the World Series in 2008. Those two starters now are ready to recruit him: CC Sabathia is one of Lee’s best friends and a former teammate in Cleveland, and A.J. Burnett is another Arkansas native, who like Lee, is a client of agent Darek Braunecker.

Yet, Lee and Kristen say, the Dallas-Fort Worth area feels like home to their family, which includes daughter Maci, 7. They are just a 40-minute flight from their hometown of Benton, Ark.; they are moving into a restored 1927 house in Little Rock this winter.

They attended the same middle and high schools, and their families and friends still live there.

“That’s the greatest thing, being so close to home,” says Kristen, who says she is superstitious and refuses to answer her phone when Lee pitches.

“Cliff can fit in anywhere, but it makes my life a lot easier. We’ve never had a short commute before. Having a direct flight from Little Rock is great.”

Says Greenberg, whose ownership group took over the team in August after winning an auction in U.S. bankruptcy court: “We think we have things to offer from a lifestyle standpoint that are enormous advantages.

“We can’t control what the Yankees or any other club chooses to offer. We know we’re going to have to be aggressive financially.

“We’re not going into this with a pea shooter. The old Rangers are gone.”

Perhaps the Rangers’ greatest sales pitch simply was having Kristen sit in the visiting family section at Yankee Stadium during the playoffs. She says there were ugly taunts. Obscenities. Cups of beer thrown. Even fans spitting from the section above.

“The fans did not do good things in my heart,” Kristen says.

“When people are staring at you, and saying horrible things, it’s hard not to take it personal.”

Who knows if the fans’ behavior will have any affect on Lee’s decision. Nothing ever unravels him, Kristen says, unless something interferes with him during deer hunting season, which starts Nov. 13 in Arkansas. Free agency can wait a little longer.

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