ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Two innings after Nelson Cruz crumbled to the ground writhing in pain, the slugger provided a grand finish for the Texas Rangers.
Cruz hit the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history, sending the defending AL champions to Detroit with a 2-0 lead in the American League championship series after a 7-3 victory over the Tigers in 11 innings Monday.
“That’s the guy you want to see right now,” Elvis Andrus said. “He’s getting hot again. That’s what we’re looking for.”
The high drive to left off Ryan Perry was the second homer of the game for Cruz, and his third in the ALCS after struggling so badly in the first round of the playoffs (1 for 15 with only a single against Tampa Bay).
He now has the Rangers on Cruz control in the ALCS. They are two wins away from their second consecutive World Series after having never won a postseason series before last year.
“When Nellie gets going like he’s going, he’s tough to beat,” Ian Kinsler said. “Hopefully he can continue that and carry us.”
Game 3 is Tuesday night in Detroit. Colby Lewis, 4-0 in five career postseason starts, pitches for Texas against Doug Fister.
Lewis was on a flight ahead of the team, and was probably already in Detroit before the 4-hour, 25-minute marathon ended in Texas. Fister flew home with the rest of the Tigers.
Cruz doubled early and chased Tigers starter Max Scherzer with a tying home run in the seventh. Then he was hit near the right wrist by a Jose Valverde fastball in the ninth, when the Rangers blew a bases-loaded chance — same as Detroit had done in the top half of the inning.
“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.”
Manager Ron Washington said Cruz “was a little scared” because the area where he got hit was already black and blue.
“But after the doctor checked him and told him he was fine, then Nelson got up,” Washington said. “We certainly needed everything he gave us tonight. He tied the ballgame, and he won it.”
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.
Just before his game-ending blast, Cruz fouled a ball deep into the stands near the pole. He stood briefly and watched when he connected again before a trip around the bases that ended with him getting mobbed at the plate by the Rangers.
“It was amazing,” said Cruz, who is 4 for 7 with three homers, a double and six RBIs in the ALCS. “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.”
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.”
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, and is now in an 0-2 hole that only three teams have overcome since the league championship series became a best-of-seven in 1985.
“It’s just been two close games and could have gone either way,” said cleanup hitter Victor Martinez, who is 0 for 7 in the series. “Unfortunately, we end up on the losing side, but … we’re going home. We’ve been doing it the whole season: turn the page, come back tomorrow and keep on going.”
Mike Adams, the sixth Texas pitcher, got the win with a pair of strikeouts in a scoreless 11th 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 because Cruz led off the inning by pulling a ball down the left-field line that ricocheted high off the pole.
“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.”