ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers are on Cruz control in the American League Championship Series.
Nelson Cruz hit the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history, lifting the defending AL champions over the Detroit Tigers 7-3 in 11 innings Monday for a 2-0 series lead.
"It’s an instant classic, no doubt about it," teammate Ian Kinsler said. "When Nellie gets going like he’s going, he’s tough to beat."
Cruz doubled early, chased Tigers starter Max Scherzer with a tying home run in the seventh and was hit by a fastball near his right wrist that sent him down in pain in the ninth.
Then, with nobody out in the 11th after a misplay in the Detroit outfield loaded the bases, Cruz hit a high drive to left off Ryan Perry that sent 51,227 fans into a towel-waving frenzy. Cruz’s trip around the bases ended with him getting mobbed at the plate by the Rangers.
"It was amazing," said Cruz, who had just fouled a ball deep into the stands near the pole. "First two pitches, I was too aggressive. I hit the ball — foul ball, foul ball. So after that, I told myself just slow down and try to hit a fly ball to the outfield."
Cruz instead did something much grander, hitting the fourth slam in the playoffs this season.
After struggling in the first round against Tampa Bay, when he had only a single in 15 at-bats, Cruz is 4-for-7 with three homers, a double and six RBIs in the ALCS.
"What he’s done tonight, he’s capable of doing," manager Ron Washington said.
Game 3 is today in Detroit. Colby Lewis, 4-0 in five career postseason starts, pitches for Texas against Doug Fister.
Michael Young, the Rangers’ career hits leader, snapped an 0-for-15 postseason slide when he led off the 11th with a single off Perry, the fifth Detroit pitcher. Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli followed with singles, the latter on a liner to right-center that looked as though it would be caught. Instead, right fielder Andy Dirks let the ball glance off his glove as center fielder Austin Jackson ran behind him.
"It was one of those balls that’s a little between us. Should have been caught," Dirks said.
The ball dropped for a single that loaded the bases. That brought up Cruz, who also homered in Texas’ 3-2 win in the series opener.
STATS LLC said Cruz’s slam was the first to end a postseason game — with a postscript. Robin Ventura sent a bases-loaded drive over the fence to finish a New York Mets victory against Atlanta in the 1999 National League Championship Series, but was swarmed by teammates between first and second.
Ventura never made it around the bases and was credited with an RBI single. His 15th-inning drive for a 4-3 Mets win in Game 5 came to be known as "the grand slam-single."
Both teams blew bases-loaded chances in the ninth. Texas shortstop Elvis Andrus made a juggling, over-the-shoulder catch in shallow center field on a flare by Victor Martinez, cradling the ball against his chest to end the inning.
"I told him not to scare me like that. He got the ball, but I saw white," third baseman Beltre said. "I thought he dropped it. It was a big relief."
In the Texas ninth, Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera started and ended a nifty double play on Mitch Moreland’s sharp grounder after David Murphy hit a fly ball to shallow left for the first out.
That was also when Cruz got hit by a fastball from Jose Valverde.
"When I got hit, I thought it was worse," Cruz said. "In that situation, you want to stay in the game. Thank God I got a chance to win the game."
Texas relievers combined for 8 1/3 scoreless innings, starting the string shortly after Ryan Raburn’s three-run homer off starter Derek Holland put the Tigers ahead 3-2 in the third.
The Rangers’ bullpen has pitched 12 2/3 scoreless innings during the first two games, allowing five hits and three walks while striking out 16.
Detroit left 13 runners on base, including five in the first two innings.
"They earned it, and we didn’t quite get it done," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We haven’t been able to come up with any big hits."
Scherzer bounced off the mound pumping his fist and glove after getting out of a two-on, none-out jam in the sixth with a 3-2 lead. There was a conversation with Leyland after he got to the dugout, and the right-hander went back out for the seventh.
That was one batter too long.
Cruz led off the inning by pulling a ball down the left-field line that ricocheted high off the pole. That was it for Scherzer, and the game stayed tied until Cruz untied it in the 11th.
"I was going to let (Scherzer) have Cruz, obviously. If Cruz got on, I was going to bring in a lefty," Leyland said. "He tried to elevate one in the strike zone, and he didn’t get it there."