BY: Richard W. Humphrey
Texas took charge of the ALCS with 7-3 Columbus Day win over Detroit Monday. Right fielder Nelson Cruz broke up a 3-3 tie with an 11th inning grand slam home run, the first walk off grand slam home run in playoff history. A crowd of 51,227 witnessed perhaps the most historic game in the history of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Derek Holland and Max Scherzer were the starting pitchers. Scherzer was terrific; Holland wasn’t, though in the end both pitchers allowed three runs in the game.
Holland struggled with fastball command from the start. He somehow kept the Tigers off the scoreboard in the first and second innings, in which he walked four, gave up a hit and stranded five Tiger baserunners. He wasn’t so fortunate in the third. After starting the inning by retiring Delmon Young, who was added to the Tigers’ roster Monday replacing Magglio Ordonez, he gave up a double and hit batsman to set the stage for Ryan Raburn’s three run home run, giving Detroit its first lead of the series. Two batters later he was out of the game with a final pitching line of 2.2 innings pitched, three runs (earned) allowed, on four hits and four walks. He struck out no one.
In the 2011 regular season, Holland received the best run support of any Major League pitcher. The Rangers’ first inning looked like business as usual as Texas stepped out to a 2-0 lead with run scoring doubles from Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre. From that point, Scherzer stiffened. After Cruz doubled to start the second, Scherzer retired 12 Rangers in a row until Elvis Andrus led off the sixth with a walk. Hamilton followed with a single, but Scherzer retired the final three batters to quell the threat.
Scherzer’s night however was finished one batter later, when Cruz led off the seventh with a game tying home run.
After the starters departed, the bullpens were fantastic. Scott Feldman replaced Holland, and posted 4.1 scoreless innings. He gave up a hit, struck out four and walked none. His contribution was lost in the hoopla over the finish, but without Feldman’s astounding performance, there would not have been an 11th inning for Cruz to shine.
“That was probably the coolest game I’ve ever been a part of,” Feldman said afterward.
Alexi Ogando, Mike Gonzalez, Neftali Feliz and Mike Adams finished off the final four innings. Adams, as the last man in was the winning pitcher. The final numbers for the Ranger bullpen on the evening were 8.1 innings pitched, no runs, four hits and two walks allowed. They struck out eight Tigers’ batters.
The Tigers’ bullpen was almost as good. Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, Jose Valverde and Ryan Perry finished the game after Scherzer departed. Before the 11th, they pitched four scoreless innings, allowing one hit and two walks.
Texas had a great scoring opportunity in the ninth. Adrian Beltre opened the inning with a double off the wall in left center, a drive that needed to be a foot or so to the right to be out of the park in the Tigers’ bullpen. Mike Napoli was then walked intentionally, and Cruz got hit by a pitch to load the bases with no one out. David Murphy then flew out to left field, too short for Beltre to tag and score. Mitch Moreland then ended the threat by grounding into a 3-2-3 double play.
In the eleventh inning, the Rangers again loaded the bases with singles by Michael Young, Beltre and Napoli to start the inning. This time the Tigers couldn’t escape as Cruz powered the game winning home run into the left field stands. The only question when he hit it, was “fair or foul.” Cruz has now hit nine post-season home runs, the Rangers’ franchise record.
The series continues Tuesday with a night game in Detroit. Colby Lewis is the Texas starter. He flew ahead of the team to Detroit Monday afternoon, just in case Monday’s game turned into an elongated affair. Good planning. Doug Fister starts for Detroit.
Since 1985 when the league championship series were expanded from five to seven games, 22 teams have previously won the first two games of the series. 19 of those went on to advance to the World Series. Texas is hoping to make it 20 out of 23.