Commentary

Nelson Cruz lowers the boom on Detroit

Rangers right fielder hits first postseason walk-off grand slam in major league history

Updated: October 11, 2011, 9:39 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- There's a reason 6-foot-2, 240-pound, barrel-chested Nelson Cruz occasionally answers to the nickname "Boomstick."

Once again, he showed why.

On Monday, Cruz drove in five runs and hit a pair of majestic home runs, including the first postseason walk-off grand slam in major league history. Any time you're the first person to do something in the big leagues, it's worthy of being praised.

More importantly, Cruz's unforgettable night has given the Texas Rangers control of the American League Championship Series because his dramatic shot down the left-field line with none out lifted the Rangers to a 7-3 victory in 11 innings and a 2-0 series lead over the Detroit Tigers.

[+] EnlargeNelson Cruz
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelNelson Cruz's walk-off grand slam in the 11th inning of ALCS Game 2 was his second home run of the game.
Michael Young and Adrian Beltre started the winning rally with consecutive singles in the 11th. Mike Napoli followed with a single off Andy Dirks' glove -- and Austin Jackson's leg -- to load the bases.

At that point, Cruz had already doubled and homered. When he's locked in like that, all the pitcher can do is pray.

Ryan Perry's hanging slider was no match for Cruz's boomstick.

"Ironically, Cruz has been the guy who has been a little quiet up to this point," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "Today, of course, he had two big ones."

When Cruz hit the pitch, he knew it was gone. He just didn't know whether it was fair.

So he took a step up the first-base line while watching the ball for nearly five seconds before walking toward first base. Finally, he broke into a jog and pointed to his teammates in the dugout as the ball disappeared over the 14-foot fence.

While Cruz wondered whether it was fair, Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus began running along the dugout rail -- arms triumphantly raised -- as they waited for the official celebration to begin.

Cruz, practically floating around the bases, flung his batting helmet toward home plate when he was halfway down the third-base line and joined his teammates at home plate for a group hug.

They bounced excitedly for nearly a minute, lost in the emotion of the moment.

Can you blame them?

After all, the Rangers had just won their fifth consecutive postseason game. Each of the previous three had been by one run, and Game 2 of the ALCS was yet another heart-stopper.

Cruz homered on a letter-high fastball in the seventh inning, tying the score at 3-all.

The Tigers loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth inning, but Andrus made a nifty over-the-shoulder catch in shallow center field. The Rangers could have won the game in the ninth but blew a bases-loaded, none-out opportunity.

Not a problem.

Cruz and his boomstick made sure it didn't happen again.

The past month has been difficult for Cruz, who missed two weeks in September with a strained hamstring. Since the minor league seasons had ended, he couldn't take a rehab assignment, which meant he had to try to find his timing against the best competition.

Cruz hit .190 with one homer and three RBIs in 42 September at-bats, and he wasn't any better in the ALDS with one hit in 15 at-bats. Still, he homered in the Rangers' ALCS Game 1 win over Detroit.

Manager Ron Washington didn't get excited until Cruz doubled to right-center in his first at-bat.

"When he uses the entire field, that's when I get excited," Washington said. "I felt like he was getting close, and I had been telling him to be patient and it would come.

"When he gets hot, we can ride him. He can carry a team."

Cruz has stopped lunging at pitches. He's slowed himself down at the plate since his hands are quick enough to get his bat through the hitting zone. Besides, the longer he sees a pitch, the less he gets fooled.

And he's so strong, all he has to do is hit the ball. His strength and bat speed will provide the distance.

Cruz's boomstick has awakened. Detroit has a problem.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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