Texas’ Nelson Cruz goes overboard with walk-off grand slam
Reporting from Arlington, Texas -- A fly ball to the outfield would have done it. So would a grounder through a drawn-in infield. Nelson Cruz would have none of that. History was there for the taking, and the Texas slugger seized it, wrapping his meaty hands around it like it was a bat handle.
In yet another dramatic finish that would have left the late, great broadcaster Jack Buck not believing what he just saw, Cruz blasted a grand slam in the bottom of the 11th inning Monday to lift the Rangers to a 7-3 walk-off victory over the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.
Cruz’s game-winner, a towering drive to left field at the Ballpark in Arlington, was his second homer of the game, third of the ALCS and, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the first walk-off grand slam in postseason history.
With a crowd of 51,227 going wild and a mob awaiting him at home, Cruz pretended his helmet was a bowling ball, flinging it toward his teammates, who parted so Cruz could touch the plate.
The celebration of a tense, emotion-filled win that gave the Rangers a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series continued in the Texas clubhouse.
“It was crazy,” said Cruz, whose solo homer off Max Scherzer tied the score, 3-3, in the seventh. “There was baby powder, beer, shaving cream, water. . . . They threw everything at me, but it was worth it.”
The Rangers survived a rocky start from Derek Holland, who allowed three runs and four hits, including Ryan Raburn’s three-run homer in the third, walked four and hit a batter in 22/3 innings.
They got 81/3 scoreless, four-hit innings from their bullpen, including long reliever Scott Feldman’s brilliant, out-of-nowhere 41/3 -inning, one-hit, four-strikeout effort. Texas relievers have combined for 122/3 scoreless innings in the series.
The Rangers escaped a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the top of the ninth when shortstop Elvis Andrus raced into shallow center to make an over-the-shoulder catch of Victor Martinez’s bloop, bobbling the ball and cradling it against his chest for the out.
And they won despite failing to score after loading the bases with no outs in the bottom of the ninth against Detroit closer Jose Valverde, who got David Murphy to fly to shallow left and Mitch Moreland to ground into a first-to-home-to-first double play.
“I can honestly say that was probably the coolest game I’ve ever been a part of,” said Feldman, who went from a 17-win season as the team’s ace in 2009 to a long reliever in an injury plagued 2011.
“I thought my beard was going to turn gray. It was nerve-wracking, but it was awesome when [Cruz] walked it off at the end.”
There was some doubt Cruz would make it to the finish after he was drilled on the right wrist by a Valverde fastball in the ninth.
“I thought it was worse,” Cruz said. “If this was a regular-season game I might have come out. You want to stay in a playoff game.”
Texas closer Neftali Feliz pitched a scoreless 10th, and Mike Adams struck out two in a scoreless 11th. Rangers cleanup batter Michael Young opened the bottom of the 11th with a single off reliever Ryan Perry, snapping an 0-for-15 playoff slump.
Adrian Beltre singled to center, and Mike Napoli followed with a catchable flare to right-center that Andy Dirks, who entered the game in the ninth, failed to catch. It was ruled a single but should have been an error.
“It hit off the end of my glove,” Dirks said. “There wasn’t any miscommunication [with center fielder Austin Jackson]. It was between us a little bit, but I should have caught it.”
Perry tried to throw a 1-and-2 slider away to Cruz, but he caught too much of the plate with it, and Cruz, who has regained his stroke after missing two weeks of September because of a left hamstring strain, made him pay.
“I saw it on TV last year, all those home runs he hit in the postseason,” Napoli said of Cruz, who hit six homers during the Rangers’ run to the World Series last October. “And he’s doing it again. He’s a good player. He was injured, and he tried to come back with no rehab time. That’s not easy.”
Cruz hit .263 with 29 homers and 87 RBIs this season but only .190 (eight for 42) with one homer and three RBIs in September. His fourth-inning solo homer in Game 1 Saturday night snapped an 0-for-10 slide.
But after the Rangers scored twice in the first inning Monday on RBI doubles by Josh Hamilton and Beltre, Cruz led off the second with a double to right-center.
After Raburn’s homer gave Detroit a 3-2 lead in the third, Cruz tied it with his homer to left in the seventh.
“I knew it was just a matter of time before he got it going,” Young said. “We truly do not get concerned about any of our guys offensively. We know what we’re capable of doing, and we’re confident we’re going to do the job.”
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