If Jose Valverde and the Detroit Tigers learned anything in Wednesday’s 7-3, 11-inning loss to the Texas Rangers it should be this: Do not pitch to Nelson Cruz in the 11th inning.
The also learned the guy has a cannon for an arm in the outfield.
For the second time in three games (remember that Game 2 grand slam?), the 31-year-old Dominican outfielder blasted a huge home run — this time a three-run bomb off the previously perfect Valverde — to give the Rangers a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series.
But before helped win the game for Texas, he kept them from losing it.
With one out in the bottom of the eighth, the Rangers intentionally walked Miguel Cabrera — putting the potential winning run on base. After Victor Martinez singled to move Cabrera to third, Delmon Young hit a fly ball to Cruz in right field that would surely get Cabrera home.
But Nelson’s one-hop bullet to the plate gave catcher Mike Napoli (who hit the go-ahead single before Cruz’s homer) time to brace himself for the collision — and tag Cabrera out to keep the score tied at 3 heading into the ninth.
“Tonight,” Rangers Manager Ron Washington said, “it was ‘Thank you, Nelson Cruz.’ ”
The Rangers have been thanking Cruz quite a bit this series. After he managed only one hit in 15 ALDS at-bats, Cruz has regained the form he displayed in the 2010 postseason when he hit .316 with six home runs to help lead Texas to the World Series.
Just how good has Nellie been in his first two years of playoff action? Better than playoff legend Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson, as it turns out.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of Cruz and Mr. October through their first 24 postseason games. Jackson’s stats include five series from 1971 through the 1974 ALCS with the Oakland A’s.
---------- Games --- AB ---- Avg ---- Runs ---- 2B ---- HR ---- RBI
Jackson - 24 ------- 92 ---- .250 ------ 6 -------- 6 ------- 3 ------- 11
Cruz ----- 24 ------- 89 ---- .281 ----- 18 ------- 8 ------- 10 ------ 20
Jackson went on to play in 12 more postseason series over through the 1986 season. For his career, he hit .278 with 18 home runs and 48 RBI. Oh yeah, and he also won four World Series titles with the A’s (2) and Yankees (2).
Cruz still has a long way to go in that department, but if he keeps up his late-inning heroics, the Rangers could be on their way to their first World Series championship.
In the Texas clubhouse, Cruz sometimes answers to the nickname “Boomstick .” It’s a fitting moniker for a guy with a penchant for blasting homers, but it might be time to come up with a more playoff-centric name, don’t you think?
More American League Championship series from The Washington Post:
Photo gallery: Scenes from Game 4 of the ALCS
Box score: Rangers 7, Tigers 3