Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rangers slugger Cruz wins ALCS MVP

By JAIME ARON

updated 1:19 a.m. ET Oct. 16, 2011

ARLINGTON, Texas - Move over, Reggie, Babe and all other October sluggers. Nobody has ever had a postseason power surge like Nelson Cruz just did in the AL championship series.

With a two-run homer Saturday night, Cruz upped his ALCS totals to six homers and 13 RBIs ? both major league records for a postseason series. The numbers will hold, too, because his Texas Rangers beat the Detroit Tigers 15-5 in Game 6 to advance to the World Series for the second straight year.

"When the team needed me, I delivered," Cruz said. "It was amazing."

It also made him an easy choice for series MVP.

Cruz went 8 for 22 (.364), with every hit going for extra bases; his two non-homers were doubles. Only once has anyone had more extra-base hits in a postseason series; Hideki Matsui had nine for the Yankees when they lost the 2004 ALCS to Boston.

Consider his other Cruz-ian feats this round:

? He hit the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history.

? He became the first player with extra-inning homers in two games of one series.

? He became the first player to hit six homers in two postseasons, and he's done it in back-to-back years.

? He became the franchise's career postseason home run king.

And, get this ? he did it all while batting seventh in the lineup.

"It was fun to watch," said teammate Josh Hamilton, last year's ALCS MVP. "It's one thing to be in the stands. But when you're down here on the field with him, you can see the intensity, see the focus. To watch him do that was incredible. ... When Nellie gets in those streaks, they can come at any time. That's what the funnest part is. Every at-bat when he's up there, it could be the at-bat where he hits another one."

On Saturday night, the Rangers already were well on their way to victory when Cruz sent another high-arching shot over the left-field wall in the seventh inning. A stadium filled with fans eager to celebrate the pennant chanted "Cruuuuuuz" long and loud, and he stepped out of the dugout for a quick salute.

When Michael Young caught the final out at first base, Cruz was running toward the play and began smiling. He then dropped to a knee and said a quick prayer, slapped the ground and charged into the pileup near the mound.

During the ceremony, there were more roars of "Cruuuuuuz" whenever his name was mentioned and of course when he received the MVP hardware.

"Nellie worked hard all year," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "Coming down the stretch, he didn't really have a whole lot of at-bats. He kept battling, his teammates supported him and in the end it all came together."

Cruz homered in every game the Rangers won ? and in every game, period, except the third. He also helped Texas win Game 4 by throwing out a runner at the plate in the eighth inning of a tie game.

Coming into this series, Cruz may have been the least likely player to have a historic performance.

He had one measly single in 15 at-bats in a first-round series against Tampa Bay.

"It was only a matter of time," said Mike Napoli, who bats ahead of Cruz. "We were like, 'What's wrong with Nellie, he hasn't hit a home run yet?' But he did it (in Game 1) and there he went."

Once he found his power stroke in the opener, Cruz stuck with it. Nearly every long drive came at a great time, too.

His solo shot in Game 1 put Texas up 3-0 on the way to a 3-2 victory. He tied Game 2 with a solo homer in the seventh inning, got hit in the wrist by a pitch in the ninth, then hit the grand slam in the 11th. He hit a three-run homer in the 11th inning of Game 4 and ripped another on a 100 mph heater from Justin Verlander in Game 5, turning what seemed like a lost cause into a 7-5 game that ended with the potential go-ahead run at the plate.

"When Nellie gets going, he's good as any power hitter in the game," Young said. "He's going right now, and it's a lot of fun to watch."

Cruz showed he could throw with power, too, in Game 4.

Detroit had a runner at third with one out when Cruz caught a fly ball and threw a strike to catcher Mike Napoli. The ball arrived in plenty of time for Napoli to brace himself for a collision with Miguel Cabrera for the inning-ending out. Cruz showed great fundamentals with the way he approached the ball, ready to step into his rifle throw.

The 31-year-old Cruz has rewarded the Rangers for their tough love approach to his career.

Back in 2008, he was waived at the end of spring training and sent to Triple-A. It was a challenge to see if he could force them to bring him up. He certainly did, hitting 37 homers and batting .342 over 103 games.

Cruz hit .318 with 22 homers last year, then whacked six more in the postseason ? three in the first round, two in the ALCS and one in the World Series.

The only other players with five homers in a single postseason series were Reggie Jackson, Ken Griffey Jr., Juan Gonzalez and Chase Utley.

The previous RBI record was 12 by Bobby Richardson and John Valentin.

"Right now, I'm just enjoying it," Cruz said. "After the season, hopefully I'm going to sit down and relax and reflect on it and make sure I realize what happened."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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