10/10/11 11:30 PM ET
Performer of the Game: Rangers' Cruz
Slugger breaks out Boomstick to give Rangers 2-0 ALCS edge
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
Cruz's last powerful stroke in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series was an epic one. It pushed the Rangers over the top as Cruz smacked the first walk-off grand slam in postseason history, which was more than enough for a 7-3 victory and a 2-0 series advantage over the Tigers.
"It's special, you know," Cruz said of the historic swat. "When you get a chance to get a 'W,' that's the most important thing."
Ah, but a little style never hurts, and Cruz offered a good dose of that Monday night, also smacking a solo homer off the left-field foul pole and adding a double for a 3-for-4 outing that put his recent struggles in the rearview mirror -- and how.
Remember, we're talking about the Rangers' No. 7 hitter here, a guy who struggled to get back on track at the end of the season after a left hamstring injury, a guy who only collected one single in the AL Division Series.
But when he came to bat in the 11th inning Monday, the Rangers knew they had the right guy at the plate: Cruz, with his trusty Boomstick -- the nickname given to his bat when he filmed a commercial for the MLB 2K10 video game and a term that originated in the horror flick "Army of Darkness." It's a moniker that fit so well that the Rangers had a Boomstick Bobblehead Night earlier this season, and fans around Rangers Ballpark in Arlington don T-shirts bearing the term.
And Cruz made it go boom big time Monday.
"We only needed one right there, but he got all four of them -- that's huge," said Ian Kinsler. "When he gets hot, he can carry a team. He's hitting in the seven-hole right now, and that shows how good our lineup is."
Said a smiling Adrian Beltre: "Yeah, he's probably the best [No. 7 hitter] in the league. He's been huge all year, and he went through his struggles, but he's back."
The two-homer game gives Cruz home runs in four of his last five ALCS games, including his solo shot of Justin Verlander in Game 1 and dating back to 2010 ALCS vs. the Yankees. His streak of five games with an extra-base hit is second only to Dave Henderson's six-game streak from 1988-89, and his nine postseason homers in 22 games extended his Rangers franchise record, matching Troy Glaus for the second-most in that span of games, behind only Carlos Beltran's 11.
When Cruz came to the plate in the 11th inning against Tigers right-hander Ryan Perry, it was a situation where a bloop single or a sacrifice fly would have done the trick just as well. But that's not how the Boomstick rolls, especially in the postseason.
"Honestly, you don't expect anything like that in the postseason," Rangers veteran Michael Young said. "A fly ball would have done just fine. We knew we had the right guy up there. Once we get to the point where our lineup is swinging well collectively, we know we're in good shape."
Consider the Rangers in fine shape, then. With sluggers Josh Hamilton and Beltre smashing the ball around Monday as well, they combined with Cruz to post six extra-base hits in Game 2 -- or two more than they combined to deliver in the entire ALDS against the Rays.
For Cruz, the switch gets flipped in October, and although he struggled to a 1-for-15 performance in the ALDS, he's lighting it up once again.
"He made a bunch of good swings against Tampa [Bay], and things just weren't falling his way," Kinsler said. "He hit a lot of hard balls right at people. When Nellie gets hot like he is right now, there's no one more confident than him and it's tough to beat him."
The grand slam to finish Monday's game came after a huge scare for Cruz in the ninth inning, when Detroit closer Jose Valverde hit him in the right forearm and practically in the chest with a pitch. Cruz went down hard, but he got up and stayed in the game.
"When I got hit, I thought it was worse," Cruz said. "I think the adrenaline in the game had to be really [flowing], not feel the pain. In that situation, you want to stay in the game."
The Rangers and their fans certainly are glad he did.
Technically, the walk-off grand slam was the second one struck in postseason history, but the first to be completed. Robin Ventura, then with the Mets and now the newly hired manager of the White Sox, hit a walk-off homer with the bases loaded in Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS, but he was mobbed by his teammates before he even reached second base. Instead of being credited with a homer, Ventura was awarded a walk-off single.
Cruz took the whole cruise around the bases on this one, flipping his helmet into the mob at home plate and then taking the celebration into the clubhouse, where a beer shower capped off what was a brilliant night at the plate.
The Rangers have to hope the Boomstick was safely guarded from any damage in the gleeful melee, kept ready for Game 3.
Cruz is swinging that Boomstick with devastating results, bringing a knowing smile to Cruz's face as he spoke to the media throng gathered around his locker.
"I told you a few days ago my swing was coming," Cruz said.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.