ARLINGTON, Texas — Nelson Cruz spent the first two weeks of September on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. He hit .180 when he returned and often looked overmatched.
The Division Series against the Rays was even worse. Dropped to seventh in the Texas lineup, he was 1 for 15.
But when the Rangers needed Cruz in the 11th inning tonight in Game 2 of the ALCS, he was there. With the bases loaded and nobody out, he crushed a slider to left field and Texas had a 7-3 victory against the Tigers.
It was the second homer of the game for Cruz, his third of the series and his ninth career homer in the postseason. It was the first walk-off grand slam in postseason history and the first grand slam since J.D. Drew connected in 2007.
(Robin Ventura of the Mets hit what would have been a walk-off grand slam in the 15th inning of Game 5 of the 1999 National League Division Series against the Braves. But he was mobbed by his teammates rounding first and was credited with a single, having never touched the plate. Orel Hershiser, who pitched in the game for the Mets, )
“That was amazing,” Cruz said. “It’s special. When you get a chance to give the team the ‘W’ that’s the most important thing.”
Michael Young and Adrian Beltre singled to start the inning before Mike Napoli followed with a fly ball to right field. Andy Dirks, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning, had a play on the ball, but it fell between he and center fielder Austin Jackson.
Cruz fouled off two pitches from Ryan Perry, took a pitch outside then hit his ninth career postseason home run.
“He did it for us during the course of the year when he was healthy,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “It couldn’t have come back to him at [a better] time. We certainly needed everything he gave us tonight.”
Cruz was hit in the right wrist by a pitch in his previous time at-bat, in the ninth inning. He went down but stayed in the game.
“When I got hit, I thought it was worse,” Cruz said. “But in that situation you want to stay in the game. Thank God I got a chance to win the game.”
Five relievers threw 8.1 scoreless innings for Texas, allowing four hits and striking out eight. The Texas bullpen has thrown 12.2 scoreless innings in the series and struck out 18.
The Rangers are loaded with hard-throwing relievers and they've dominated the series so far.
The Tigers left 13 runners on base and were 1 for 12 with runner in scoring position.
“It’s been a great two games,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “It didn’t go the right way, obviously. They earned it and we didn’t get it quite done. We haven’t been able to come up with any big hits.”
Game 2 was supposed to be played on Sunday but was postponed four hours before first pitch by a forecast of rain that never actually fell.
“Kind of a mystery. I was telling somebody if somebody buys an umbrella down here, they cancel school evidently,” Leyland said before the game.
Without Maggio Ordonez and with a hampered Delmon Young, Detroit is scratching for runs. Victor Martinez is 4 for 25 in the postseason, Miguel Cabera 5 for 23, Alex Avila 2 for 25 and Austin Jackson 3 for 25. Those were four important players for them in the regular season.
Game 2 will be in Detroit tomorrow night with Colby Lewis pitching for Texas against Doug Fister.
“I don’t feel as good as Texas does right now, obviously,” Leyland said. “We’re playing. They’ve got to win two more; we have to win four more. It’s that simple.”