Cruz sets LCS record with fifth homer
With 11 RBIs, Rangers star tied for all-time lead with two others
DETROIT -- Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz joined the pantheon of Major League Baseball's gods on Thursday when he became the first player in history to amass five homers in a League Championship Series.Cruz hit the left-field foul pole at Comerica Park for a two-run blast in the eighth inning of the Rangers' 7-5 loss to the Tigers in Game 5 of the ALCS. The bolt was struck off a 100-mph fastball from Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander on his 133rd and final pitch of the game. The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series, three games to two, and Cruz still has one more game, and potentially two more, to become the first player in history to hit six homers in any postseason series. The first pitch of Game 6 is slated for 8:05 p.m. ET at Rangers Ballpark on Saturday night, with Game 7 at the same time on Sunday, if necessary. "This is very special," Cruz said after a game in which the Tigers jumped out to a 7-2 lead. "There have been a lot of great players who have played in the playoffs. It's incredible to me that my name is now part of baseball history." Cruz is now certainly among some of the game's elite. Reggie Jackson set the standard when he smacked five homers in the 1977 World Series, including three on successive pitches in the Yankees' series-clinching Game 6 victory over the Dodgers at the original Yankee Stadium. Chase Utley matched Jackson in the Phillies' six-game loss to the Yankees in the 2009 World Series. Previously, in the AL Division Series, Ken Griffey Jr. did it for the Mariners in a 1995 triumph over the Yankees, and Juan Gonzalez accomplished it for the Rangers in a 1996 series loss to the Yankees. The LCS format was created in 1969.
|Nelson Cruz||5||TEX||2011 ALCS|
|B.J. Upton||4||TB||2008 ALCS|
|Carlos Beltran||4||HOU||2004 NLCS|
|Albert Pujols||4||STL||2004 NLCS|
|Evan Longoria||4||TB||2008 ALCS|
|Josh Hamilton||4||TEX||2010 ALCS|
|Jeffrey Leonard||4||SF||1987 NLCS|
|Jim Thome||4||CLE||1998 ALCS|
|Robinson Cano||4||NYY||2010 ALCS|
|Steve Garvey||4||LAD||1978 NLCS|
|Bob Robertson||4||PIT||1971 NLCS|
Cruz has already tied an LCS record with 11 RBIs, matching marks reached by Boston's David Ortiz against the Yankees in 2004 and Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton in '08 against the Red Sox.Cruz is also the first player in postseason history to hit extra-inning homers in two separate games within one series, and his 11th-inning walk-off grand slam to win Game 2 at Texas on Monday was the first of its kind in playoff history. "I've never seen anything like the series he's having," said Rangers left fielder David Murphy. "I've only been in one other postseason besides this one, and I've watched a lot of them on TV. To see this guy get an 0-2 fastball that's 100 mph, turn on it and hit it that far, that just tells you how locked in he is. It's incredible to watch him every day right now." Verlander had made Cruz look silly earlier in the game, striking him out swinging twice on curveballs. That's the way Verlander has a tendency to sequence pitches, blowing heat by a hitter for strike two before taking about 15 mph off a breaking pitch for the back-breaker. "In the back of my mind, I thought he might come back with that curve again," Cruz said. "He didn't, and I hit the fastball." Verlander, who came through for the Tigers as they faced elimination for the second time this postseason, had a smirk on his face as Cruz stood at the plate eyeing the ball while it descended toward the foul pole. "Really, I outthunk myself on that pitch," Verlander said. "I thought I made him look pretty foolish on a couple of curveballs earlier in the game. Here I am, 0-2, and he might be sitting on another one. So I'm playing that guessing game with him. That's not the way you should pitch. I heard that they said [on TV] that I was staring him down in the dugout. I had no problem. "As the ball hit the foul pole, he was standing at home plate for a second, seeing if it was fair or foul. Maybe I saw him do some antics. I might have had a little issue, but I didn't." Neither did Cruz, who was also shown on the broadcast gesturing the No. 100 in the dugout after seeing the miles-per-hour reading on the pitch he hit for a home run. "[Verlander] looked at me, and I was looking to see if the ball would go foul," Cruz said. "He's a professional and knows that that's part of the game. He's a great pitcher, so I don't think he had any reason to be upset. He struck me out twice, and I didn't glare at him." This is Cruz's second consecutive outstanding postseason. Last year, as the Rangers ascended to the World Series for the first time and lost in five games to the Giants, Cruz amassed six homers and 11 RBIs in 16 playoff games. Cruz's only homer of the World Series came in Game 5 and accounted for his club's only run in a series-ending 3-1 loss. The circumstances are a little different this year. Cruz missed the first few weeks of September with a strained left hamstring and has now rounded into shape. That probably accounts for his going 1-for-15 with no homers or RBIs in the Rangers' first-round victory over the Rays in four games. But nothing seems to be stopping Cruz now. "This has been unbelievable -- it's fun to watch," said Josh Hamilton, who plays next to Cruz in center field. "We were messing around in the clubhouse, saying that there's a regular-season Nellie and a postseason Nellie. His power comes in streaks, and when he's hot, he's hot. We all try to raise our game in the postseason. Some guys can do it, some guys can't. "Nelson is one of those guys who can do it come crunch time and in key situations. It's almost like he can calm himself down and do a better job than he normally does."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.