Remembering Cruz's walk-off slam in '11 ALCS

April 19th, 2020

ARLINGTON -- Former Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz called Game 2 of the 2011 American League Championship Series “a night I will never forget," and it's easy to see why. In that thriller, Cruz carried Texas to a 7-3 victory over the Tigers with a game-tying home run in the seventh before a grand slam in the bottom of the 11th.

It is the only walk-off grand slam in Major League postseason history and was streamed recently on Facebook (MLB/Las Mayores), Twitter (MLB/Las Mayores) and YouTube (MLB).

“It was a great feeling," Cruz said. "The crowd was electric. It was a magical night.”

Cruz wasn’t expecting to make history in the ALCS. He was just hoping to find his timing because it had gone missing during both the final month of the season and the AL Division Series against the Rays.

The slugger had missed two weeks at the beginning of September because of a hamstring issue. He returned for 11 games, going 8-for-42 (.190) and one home run. The Rangers advanced to the ALCS by winning three straight games after losing Game 1 against the Rays, but Cruz wasn’t much of a factor, going 1-for-15 in the opening round.

“I had a hamstring injury and wasn’t able to rehab it,” Cruz said. “The Minor League season was over and I was basically rehabbing against Tampa. My timing was off. I wasn’t feeling it.”

That would change in a big way against the Tigers. Thanks in part to his two Game 2 long balls, Cruz placed himself in the record books by hitting an LCS-record six home runs to help the Rangers eliminate Detroit in as many games and advance to the World Series for the second straight year.

“I remember that year our team was so dangerous,” said shortstop Elvis Andrus. “Especially Nelson ... Nelson was on fire, and when a guy like that gets hot, he can carry a whole team. That’s what he did that day.”

Cruz started to break out of his slump with a home run off Justin Verlander in Game 1, when the Rangers held on for a 3-2 victory.

“That was just a preamble for what Nelson was going to do in that Series,” said Ron Washington, Texas' manager from 2007-14.

Rain postponed Game 2 for a day, but the sun came out on the afternoon of Oct. 10 with 51,227 fans filling the Ballpark in Arlington. Country music legend Charley Pride sang the Star-Spangled Banner on a holiday afternoon.

“We beat Verlander the first game,” Cruz said. “He was their ace and we were now really confident. We had a great team and we were facing a great team in Detroit. They had great starters and a great lineup. It was a great matchup.”

In Game 2, the Rangers sent left-hander Derek Holland to the mound to face right-hander Max Scherzer, a 15-game winner for the Tigers that season. The Rangers jumped on the future three-time Cy Young Award winner with two runs in the first inning on a pair of RBI doubles from Josh Hamilton and Adrián Beltré.

But Holland, who had won Game 2 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay, couldn’t hold it. He walked four in the first two innings and then gave up a three-run home run to Ryan Raburn in the third.

He was replaced by right-hander Scott Feldman, who pitched brilliantly for 4 1/3 innings to keep it a one-run game. Cruz rewarded him with a game-tying homer in the seventh off Scherzer.

“Nelson was unbelievable,” Washington said. “They tried everything: sliders, changeups, fastballs. They couldn’t get anything past Nelson. When Nelson is locked in like that, he’s the kind of guy you can jump on his shoulders. Through that whole series, Nelson’s shoulders were broad.”

After Cruz’s first home run, the tension kept rising with each pitch. The ninth inning was especially memorable, but the game was still tied at three going into the 11th.

That’s when Cruz broke through with the biggest swing of his career to deliver one of the most memorable wins in Rangers history.

“Nelson was grand,” Washington said. “The bigger the stage, the bigger Nelson showed up.”