— by Mark Ross
Move over Derek Jeter, there's a new baseball postseason hero and his name is Nelson Cruz. OK, that may be a little presumptuous, but this much is clear: Cruz's Texas Rangers and not Jeter's Yankees are the team on the verge of playing in their second straight World Series, thanks in part to Cruz's potent bat.
On Monday, Cruz hit the first-ever walk-off grand slam in postseason history to help the Rangers take Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers in 11 innings. Then last night, Cruz struck again, taking Tigers' closer Jose Valverde deep in the top of the 11th inning to seal Texas' 7-3 victory.
The end result is the Rangers are one win away from their second straight trip to the Fall Classic and the clear cut MVP of this ALCS is Cruz. In four games against the Tigers, the Rangers' outfielder has four home runs, driven in nine and is hitting .357.
Cruz has all of the Rangers' home runs in the ALCS and has driven in roughly half (nine of 19) of their runs. Cruz by himself has nearly out-produced the entire Tigers' team, which has five home runs and 12 RBIs.
The right fielder also has been a difference-maker with his arm, as he nailed the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera at home in the bottom of the 8th inning, unleashing a Cruz missile that cut down the potential game-winning run.
Postseason production is nothing new for Cruz, who last year slugged six home runs, drove in 11, scored 13 runs and hit .317 in 16 playoff games. In 24 postseason games in his career thus far, Cruz has hit .281 with 18 runs scored, 10 home runs and 20 RBIs. If you took out his 1-for-15 performance in this year's ALDS against the Tampa Bay Rays, his batting average would rise to .324.
Even with that series included, Cruz's ratio of 8.9 at-bats per home run is the fourth best in postseason history, among players with at least 75 career postseason at-bats. The only players ahead of him are Carlos Beltran, Babe Ruth and Troy Glaus.
What's even more important is that the Rangers as a team have been able to reap the benefits of Cruz's success at the plate. If the Rangers go on to defeat the Tigers in the ALCS, that will run their postseason series mark to 4-1 the past two years. Their lone loss coming in last year's World Series to the San Francisco Giants.
Cruz, who is just 31, still has a long way to go before he approaches the level of a Jeter, whose five World Series rings headline his illustrious postseason resume, or even another famous Yankee power hitter, Reggie Jackson, aka Mr. October. But given his postseason production these past two seasons, he's certainly off to a good start.
And should the Rangers make it to their second straight World Series, Cruz will get the chance to add to his postseason numbers and help win the franchise's first championship in the process. After all, a World Series ring certainly wouldn't hurt his claim as baseball's newest postseason legend.