ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nelson Cruz didn’t have to test his tender hamstrings when boomstick met baseball in the bottom of the fifth inning Friday night.
He could take his time with a home run trot after launching a full-count fastball from Yankees reliever David Robertson deep over the left-center field fence – and sparking a celebration that lasted the remainder of the night at Rangers Ballpark.
“I don’t feel anything, man,” Cruz said, laughing as he recalled the shot that gave the Rangers a four-run cushion in their American League pennant-clinching 6-1 win. “I felt so good. As soon as I hit the homer, I was like a fly on the bases. I don’t feel my feet or anything. I was so happy.”
What a moment for a man no major league team wanted less than a few years ago.
Cruz was considered a Quadruple-A player – a minor league masher not good enough to get it done in the big leagues – when the Rangers exposed him to waivers in the spring of 2008. He went unclaimed and returned to the Rangers’ Oklahoma City club with an open mind.
“Then he just took off,” general manager Jon Daniels said.
After overhauling his stance, opening it up so he could see the ball better, Cruz morphed into a legitimate major leaguer, hitting .330 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 31 games when he got called up later that season. He established himself as a key part of the Rangers’ core last season, when he had 33 homers and 76 RBIs and made the AL All-Star team. He took the next step in his progression this season, when he hit .318 with 22 homers and 78 RBIs despite three stints on the disabled list due to hamstring problems.
Now he’s a postseason hero, with the hamstring tightness that caused him to leave Game 5 of the American League Championship Series nothing but a footnote.
Cruz’s dagger dinger didn’t come as a surprise. He’s been a dominant player throughout the playoffs, getting at least one hit in each game while batting .375 with five homers and eight RBIs.
“He’s an animal,” Daniels said. “You think you get through Josh [Hamilton] and Vlad [Guerrero] and the pitcher can take a deep breath, and then there’s this 240-pound monster sitting up there.”
The 240-pound monster floated in the fifth inning, beginning a baseball fiesta that will never be forgotten in Arlington.