Texas is one win away from a second consecutive trip to the World Series, as the Rangers take a commanding 3-1 AL championship series lead over the Detroit Tigers.
Tigers fans at Comerica Park were left dazed, for the second time in as many nights, when Rangers outfielder Nelson “Boomstick” Cruz delivered a game-winning three-run homer in the eleventh inning to put Texas within one game of returning to the World Series, in a 7-3 victory Wednesday night.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Cruz, whose grand slam in the eleventh inning won Game 2 in Arlington, once again stepped into a clutch role for the Rangers and became the first player in major league history to hit a pair of extra-inning homeruns in the same postseason series. The homer to left-center was Boomstick’s fourth home run of the series and the tenth of his postseason career. He’s 5-for-14 with nine RBIs –seven RBIs have come in the 11th inning alone– in four games against the Tigers. Cruz joined Boston Red Sox’s David Ortiz, New York Yankees’ Bernie Williams and Atlanta Braves’ Javy Lopez as the only players with two extra-inning homers in their career.
Game 4 began two hours late due to a torrential downpour Wednesday afternoon in Detroit. Rick Porcello started at the mound for the Tigers against the Rangers’ Matt Harrison. The delayed game was thrilling once things got underway, as the back-and-forth play was a nail biter throughout. Detroit seized an early lead with a two-run double from Cabrera in the third inning, putting the Tigers up 2-0. Harrison allowed two runs and three hits in five innings for Texas.
Porcello cruised through the first five innings, bringing the Comerica crowd to their feet with each scoreless frame. But, the 22-year-old right-hander faltered in the sixth. After a leadoff single by David Murphy, Texas went ahead with three runs (3-2) in the inning on RBI hits from Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus and Michael Young. Porcello struck out six with no walks, but allowed three runs (two earned) and eight hits in six and two-thirds innings.
Detroit answered in the seventh. With two away, Tigers’ third baseman Brandon Inge stepped into the batters box to face Texas reliever Alexi Ogando. The stellar pitcher, who had not been scored upon in his first five games of the postseason, served up a 98-mile-per-hour fastball to Inge. The young pitcher was stunned when the 34-year-old veteran smacked a solo home run over the left field wall to even the score a three apiece.
The game became tense in the eighth. With one out and nobody on in the inning, the Rangers intentionally walked the AL batting champion Miguel Cabrera to face the injured Victor Martinez, while questionably putting the go ahead run on base. The Tigers designated hitter strained an oblique muscle Tuesday on a homer in Game 3. He followed with a single to right, sending Cabrera to third base. The pressure mounted when Detroit slugger Delmon Young –also injured with a strained oblique– hit a deep fly ball to right field. Cabrera tagged at third and began to charge towards home plate, but Cruz connected with Rangers catcher Mike Napoli with a rocket, one-hop throw to tag the lumbering 240-pound Cabrera at the plate to complete an inning-ending double play that kept the ballgame tied at 3-3.
Three innings later, in the top of the eleventh, after Cruz and Napoli spectacular defensive play, both Rangers would turn in the game winning offensive plays. Tigers’ reliever Valverde, who pitched a perfect tenth inning, couldn’t hold off Texas for another inning. Josh Hamilton led off with a double to right-center. Valverde struck out Young, then intentionally walked Adrian Beltre to get to Napoli. Bad move. Napoli’s single to center field scored Hamilton to break the tie (4-3), and Cruz followed with his monstrous three-run homer to end the game. Cruz was mobbed by his teammates at the Rangers dugout as Detroit fans began heading for the exits.
It’s do-or-die time for the Tigers. Game 5 is set for Thursday afternoon as Texas sends C.J. Wilson to the mound to face the motor-city’s ace Justin Verlander. If Detroit wants to keep their season alive and force a game seven, Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland will have to give the order not to pitch to the Boomstick.
Photo: Star Telegram