ARLINGTON – “It seems like three days ago, y’all were standing around asking me if I was worried about Nellie,” said Michael Young following the Rangers' Game 2 win.
No one is worried about Nelson Cruz now.
Not after his home run Saturday night; nor his lead-off double in the second inning Monday; or his game-tying, seventh-inning home run.
And definitely not after his game-winning, walk-off grand slam in the 11th to hand Texas a 7-3 win.
No reason to be worried about the guy who just hit the first walk-off grand slam in Major League Baseball playoff history.
“I told [the media] a few days ago, that my swing is coming,” Cruz said. “Even if I didn’t get a hit every time, I felt like I was hitting the ball pretty well.”
Cruz’ postseason slump almost wasn’t the only thing broken in the first two games of the ALCS. The outfielder was drilled in the wrist in the ninth inning of Monday’s game by Detroit’s Jose Valverde.
Texas manager Ron Washington said Cruz was scared because the wrist turned black-and-blue. He stayed down for a moment while Washington and the trainers came out.
“[A]fter the doctor checked him and told him he was fine, Nelson got up,” Washington said. “What what he [did] tonight, he’s capable of doing. He did it for us during the course of the year when he was healthy. It couldn’t have come back to him at [a better] time.”
Maybe it’s an ALCS thing.
Cruz has hit safely in all eight of his career LCS games and has an extra-base hit in five straight league championship games, as well as home runs in three straight LCS games dating back to last year.
Washington and Cruz both said it was about sticking to his approach.
“When Nelson is putting the ball to the middle of the field, especially the opposite way, you know he’s staying on the pitch,” Washington said. “The home run he ended up hitting to win the ballgame, all he was trying to do was stay in the big part of the field, and he reacted … When he does that, good things happen.”
Cruz’ walk-off ended a game that Texas trailed by one from the third inning to the seventh.
Texas starter Derek Holland struggled to find his control early on and never improved. After escaping first and second inning jams, the Tigers caught up with him to put up three runs on a Ryan Raburn homer in the third.
Holland was chased from the game after 2-2/3 innings in favor of Scott Feldman, who carried Texas until they tied the game in the seventh on Cruz’ solo homer.
Feldman pitched 4-1/3 innings, giving up a single hit and no walks while striking out four.
“Our bullpen held us there the whole night,” said catcher Mike Napoli. “Hats off to Feldy. If not for him, we really don’t have a chance to win that game.”
But Feldman had to hand it to Cruz for the historic grand slam that made his scoreless innings matter.
“For me, I can honestly say that was probably the coolest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Feldman said. “When I got done [pitching], even watching that game, I thought my beard was going to turn grey. It was real nerve-wracking, but just awesome when [Cruz] walked it off at the end.”
Washington on how he feels going to Detroit with a 2-0 series lead: “It probably will be a long series. You got two teams competing that will not quit. And we know, we certainly had an opportunity earlier in the game with the bases loaded, [we] didn’t get it done. That time we got it done. It was one heck of a ballgame.”
Washington on giving the ball to relievers Alexi Ogando, Mike Gonzalez and Neftali Feliz for three more scoreless frames: “We really had no intentions on trying to get two innings out of Ogando tonight. But we had to. We had to try to push it. Kelly doesn’t hit very well against left-handers.
“Gonzo has nails getting lefties out for us. Decided to go there. Kelly got a base hit. The thing is, I bust out of the dugout not thinking, because I was asking [pitching coach] Mike [Maddux] is [Feliz] down there ready for Cabrera. [Kelly] hits the double, I jump out of the dugout.
“I could have let Mike Gonzalez walk Cabrera. But I wasn’t going to face Cabrera. Neffy came in and got us out of the inning.”
Mike Napoli on Cruz’ walk-off: “If he would have hit a fly ball deep to the outfield, we would have been just as happy. But to do it like that is pretty amazing. I’m glad that guy is getting his swing back and getting his timing down. We’re going to need him.”