ARLINGTON, Texas — Nelson Cruz is again swinging his big boomstick in October for the Texas Rangers, who are one win from their second consecutive trip to the World Series.
Only 3 1/2 years ago, Cruz was waived at the end of spring training but went unclaimed and was sent to the minors. It’s been quite a turnaround.
“That period of time in Nelson’s life, he hadn’t arrived yet. You know, we all got to experience things before we finally make our way to where we want to be,” manager Ron Washington said Friday. “That certainly probably has done a great deal for Nelson to experience that and realize once he got here that he certainly have to figure out how to make the adjustments. And he’s done that. “
Cruz is living up to his boomstick moniker that became common after an MLB 2K10 video game promotion last year, a season after he was the Home Run Derby runner-up. He already has an LCS-record five home runs heading into Saturday night, when the Rangers host Detroit with a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven AL series.
“You just continue to say ‘Wow, this guy is really good’,” said David Murphy, who as the No. 8 hitter usually is on deck when Cruz hits.
Cruz won Game 2 with the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history. Cruz hit another 11th-inning drive in Detroit in Game 4, a three-run shot.
Yet Cruz bats seventh in the Texas lineup, behind Josh Hamilton, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli.
“When he gets going he’s as good as any power hitter in the game,” Young said. “He’s got that knack for big RBIs, and you definitely need those guys on your team.”
Against the Tigers, Cruz tied Game 2 when he led off the seventh with a solo homer that chased Max Scherzer. The Detroit starter had retired 12 in a row following a double by Cruz, who was hit by a pitch near his wrist in the ninth and then hit his slam.
Cruz also chased Justin Verlander in Game 5 when he pulled a 100-mph 0-2 fastball that hit the left-field pole, just like his homer off Scherzer.
“I realize he’s a good hitter and he’s hot. Given that, you can’t fear him. You have to go right after him,” Scherzer said Friday. ‘Even though he’s hot, if the situation arises, you might have to be more careful. My game plan, I guarantee you, going forward will be to be aggressive with him. “
Scherzer gets another chance Saturday night in a rematch of the Game 2 starters. Derek Holland, who didn’t make it out of the third inning Monday, goes for the Rangers.
While the Rangers had an optional light workout late Friday afternoon at Rangers Ballpark that last less than an hour, the Tigers opted for some extra time at home before flying back to Texas after extending the series with a 7-5 victory Thursday.
On a conference call from Detroit, manager Jim Leyland said he was open for suggestions when asked if the Tigers need to re-evaluate how they’re pitching Cruz.
“That would be a good idea,” Leyland said. “He’s a threat to hit the ball out of the ballpark at any time.”
Cruz wasn’t in the clubhouse Friday when it was open to reporters, who were told the slugger was taking the day off along with center fielder Josh Hamilton (left groin strain) and third baseman Adrian Beltre, who fouled a ball off his knee in Detroit.
But Cruz was later on the field and fully participated in batting practice.
The grand slam by Cruz ended the game that had been postponed because of the threat of more wet weather that never happened a day after Game 1 last Saturday night was delayed twice by rain and didn’t end until just after midnight.
There should be ideal weather conditions this weekend, when the game-time temperatures are expected to be around 80 degrees with no chance of rain.
After going 1 for 15 with a single in the AL division series against Tampa Bay, Cruz is 6 for 18 against the Tigers, with a double, five homers and 11 RBIs, matching the ALCS record and one shy of the tying the mark for any postseason series.
“Yes, it’s amazing with him hitting the ball out of the ballpark the way he’s doing it. But it certainly isn’t anything we haven’t seen before,” Washington said. “We’re just happy that it’s happening at this time.”
Cruz hit six homers and set a postseason record with 13 extra-base hits last October when the Rangers won their first AL pennant. Of his 11 career postseason homers, seven have come in the seventh inning or later — a mark surpassed only by Bernie Williams, Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter.
The Rangers acquired Cruz with Carlos Lee from Milwaukee in their July 2006 trade. Cruz finished that season with the Rangers, and then started and ended 2007 in the majors with a stint at Triple-A Oklahoma in between.
But at the end of spring training in 2008, the final roster spot came down to Cruz or Jason Botts, both young power hitters out of minor league options. Texas went with Botts, who hit only .158 in 15 games with 18 strikeouts in 38 at-bats and was designated for assignment. Botts never again played in the majors.
Cruz cleared waivers and was sent outright to Oklahoma, where he had an MVP season in the Pacific Coast League. He hit .342 with 37 home runs, 99 RBIs and 24 stolen bases in 103 games for the RedHawks before rejoining the Rangers the final six weeks of the season — when he hit .330 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 31 games.
Originally signed as a 17-year-old free agent from the Dominican Republic in 1998, Cruz spent three seasons in the New York Mets organization before getting traded to Oakland and later Milwaukee. Now he’s a postseason standout for the Rangers.
“It’s very gratifying, satisfying, all of the above, simply because we need Nelson. He’s a big part of our team.,” Washington said. “Not only on the offensive side, defensive side, status in the clubhouse, energy that he brings, all of that comes into play.”