The Texas Rangers are on Cruz control in the American League Championship Series.
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Nelson Cruz hit the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history, lifting the defending AL champions over the Detroit Tigers 7-3 in 11 innings Monday for a 2-0 series lead.
”It’s an instant classic, no doubt about it,” teammate Ian Kinsler said. ”When Nellie gets going like he’s going, he’s tough to beat.”
Cruz doubled early, chased Tigers starter Max Scherzer with a tying home run in the seventh and was hit by a fastball near his right wrist that sent him crumbling to the ground in pain in the ninth.
Then, with nobody out in the 11th after a misplay in the Detroit outfield loaded the bases, Cruz hit a high drive to left off Ryan Perry that sent 51,227 fans into a towel-waving frenzy. Cruz’s trip around the bases ended with him getting mobbed at the plate by the Rangers.
”It was amazing,” said Cruz, who had just fouled a ball deep into the stands near the pole. ”First two pitches, I was too aggressive. I hit the ball — foul ball, foul ball. So after that, I told myself just slow down and try to hit a fly ball to the outfield.”
Cruz instead did something much grander, hitting the fourth slam in the playoffs this season.
After struggling in the first round against Tampa Bay, when he had only a single in 15 at-bats, Cruz is 4 for 7 with three homers, a double and six RBIs in the ALCS.
”What he done tonight, he’s capable of doing,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said.
Game 3 is Tuesday night in Detroit. Colby Lewis, 4-0 in five career postseason starts, pitches for Texas against Doug Fister.
Michael Young, the Rangers’ career hits leader, snapped an 0-for-15 postseason slide when he led off the 11th with a single off Perry, the fifth Detroit pitcher. Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli followed with singles, the latter on a liner to right-center that looked as though it would be caught. Instead, right fielder Andy Dirks let the ball glance off his glove as center fielder Austin Jackson ran behind him.
”It was one of those balls that’s a little between us, should have been caught,” Dirks said, adding there was no miscommunication between him and Jackson.
The ball dropped for a single that loaded the bases. That brought up Cruz, who also homered in Texas’ 3-2 win in the series opener.
STATS LLC said Cruz’s slam was the first to end a postseason game — with a postscript. Robin Ventura sent a bases-loaded drive over the fence to finish a New York Mets victory against Atlanta in the 1999 NLCS, but was swarmed by teammates between first and second.
Ventura never made it around the bases and was officially credited with an RBI single. His 15th-inning drive for a 4-3 Mets win in Game 5 came to be known as ”the grand slam-single.”
The Tigers and Rangers both blew bases-loaded chances in the ninth. Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus made a juggling, over-the-shoulder catch in shallow center field on a flare by Victor Martinez, cradling the ball against his chest to end the inning. Andrus and Texas part-owner Nolan Ryan each flashed a sheepish smile.
”Unfortunately, yes, I saw it,” Martinez said.
So did Beltre at third base.
”I told him not to scare me like that. He got the ball but I saw white,” Beltre said. ”I thought he dropped it. It was a big relief.”
In the Texas ninth, Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera started and ended a nifty double play on Mitch Moreland’s sharp grounder after David Murphy hit a fly ball to shallow left for the first out.
That was also when Cruz got hit by a fastball from Jose Valverde.
”When I got hit, I thought it was worse,” Cruz said. ”In that situation, you want to stay in the game. Thank God I got a chance to win the game.”
Texas relievers combined for 8-1/3 scoreless innings, starting the string shortly after Ryan Raburn’s three-run homer off starter Derek Holland put the Tigers ahead 3-2 in the third.
The Rangers’ bullpen has pitched 12-2/3 scoreless innings during the first two games of the series, allowing five hits and three walks while striking out 16.
Instead of the scheduled travel day Monday the Tigers and Rangers played Game 2, which was postponed Sunday because of a forecast that called for more rain that never came a night after the twice-delayed series opener.
Detroit left 13 runners on base, including five in the first two innings.
”They earned it, and we didn’t quite get it done,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. ”We haven’t been able to come up with any big hits.”
Mike Adams, the sixth Texas pitcher, worked a scoreless 11th that ended when Cabrera hit a fly ball that Josh Hamilton caught on the warning track in front of the Rangers’ bullpen in right-center. Adams, the winning pitcher, struck out two in his only inning.
Scherzer bounced off the mound pumping his fist and glove after getting out of a two-on, none-out jam in the sixth with a 3-2 lead. There was a conversation with Leyland after he got to the dugout, and the right-hander went back out for the seventh.
That was one batter too long.
Cruz led off the inning by pulling a ball down the left-field line that ricocheted high off the pole. That was it for Scherzer.
”I was going to let him have Cruz, obviously. If Cruz got on, I was going to bring in a lefty. If he got Cruz out, I was going to let him keep going,” Leyland said. ”I thought he was throwing great. He was throwing tremendous. . . . He tried to elevate one in the strike zone, and he didn’t get it there.”
After Cruz’s leadoff double in the second, Scherzer retired 11 in a row until his trouble in the sixth.
Raburn, who has already replaced two injured sluggers in this series, homered right after Cabrera had run home from second base when a 1-2 pitch bounced at the feet of Martinez and caused all kinds of confusion.
Martinez hopped back as if he had been hit by the pitch and went to first base as plate umpire Larry Vanover and Napoli pointed that way, the catcher apparently appealing a checked swing. Cabrera took off running from second base and crossed home plate, where Holland stood with his arms spread wide in disbelief while Napoli nonchalantly retrieved the ball that had gone to the backstop.
Umpires gathered and ruled that Martinez was hit by the pitch and sent Cabrera back to second base.
”I knew the ball hit him. OK? But it wasn’t called. OK?” Leyland said. ”He checked the ball for polish and it wasn’t called.”
The next batter, Raburn, made all the discussions moot.
Raburn started the ALCS opener in left field in place of Delmon Young, the slugger who was expected to miss this series after being left off the initial roster because of what had been initially called a left oblique strain.
But Young was added to the roster Monday and was back in the lineup after Magglio Ordonez re-fractured his surgically repaired right ankle, ending his season after Game 1 of the ALCS. Raburn took over for Ordonez in right field on Monday.
NOTES: Ryan Roberts and Paul Goldschmidt of Arizona and Robinson Cano of the Yankees have the other playoff grand slams this year. … Holland was 10-1 over his last 15 regular-season starts and won Game 2 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay. … County music singer Charley Pride, a former Negro Leagues player who is part of the Rangers’ ownership group that bought the team last year, sang the national anthem. … Scherzer, a 15-game winner in the regular season who pitched 1-1/3 innings in relief during the AL division series clincher against the Yankees on Thursday night, struck out six and walked one.