Nelson Cruz on His Way to ALCS MVP

Is any player enjoying more of a breakout in the MLB playoffs than Nelson Cruz? Delmon Young had an excellent ALDS for the Tigers, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder have been destroying the ball for the Brewers, and Scott Feldman and Alexi Ogando have been studs in the Texas bullpen, but no player is having a bigger impact in the LCS than Nelson Cruz.

The Rangers right fielder made two key plays to help Texas beat Detroit 7-3 in 11 innings Wednesday night. With one out in the eighth inning, he caught a Delmon Young fly ball deep in right field and threw home to nail Miguel Cabrera who was tagging from third. We joked about how slowly Cabrera was running, but the fact is Cruz’s throw was so strong, and so accurate, that it would have gotten out almost any base runner.

Then in the 11th inning, after Mike Napoli singled in the tie-breaking run, Cruz slammed a 3-run home run to left field to make it 7-3. The home run made him the first player in MLB history to have a pair of extra innings home runs in the same playoff series.

Cruz hit a solo home run in Texas’ 3-2 win in Game 1, he hit a walk-off grand slam in Game 2, and a 3-run home run in Game 4. He now has four home runs and nine RBIs in the ALCS, and a whopping 1.685 OPS. Few players have dominated an ALCS so thoroughly. The MVP is likely his if the Rangers can win another one of their next three games.

Nelson Cruz Hits First Walk-Off Grand Slam in MLB Playoff History

When Nelson Cruz hit a walk-off grand slam to beat the Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS Monday, a friend said to me “there can’t be too many of those in history.” He was right. Cruz’s walk-off grand salami was the first in MLB playoff history (or technically the second).

The 31-year-old right fielder hit two huge home runs for Texas. He popped one out in the 7th to tie the game at three, and then he unloaded on a hanging Ryan Perry breaking ball in the 11th to win the game. Perry completely missed his spot on the pitch, intending to paint the outside corner, but instead leaving it over the middle of the plate. From there, the only question was whether the ball would stay fair, not whether it would get out.

The home runs gave Cruz three in the postseason, which is welcomed with relief from Texas; he was only 2-for-18 in the playoffs entering the game.

It’s really no surprise to see him crushing balls in the postseason. Cruz’s slugging percentage has been over .500 the past three seasons, and he hit 29 in 124 games this year. Not bad for a guy who was an afterthought in the 2006 Carlos Lee-Francisco Cordero trade, huh?

As far as other walk-off grand slams are considered, Robin Ventura had one in the 1999 NLCS against the Braves. It was officially termed a walk-off single because he was mobbed by his teammates and never made it past first base. No matter how you look at it, it’s exclusive company for Cruz.

Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Tony La Russa Talks About Rally Squirrel Dating Allen Craig’s Tortoise

While the Milwaukee Brewers have their “Beast Mode” Monsters, Inc. celebration, the St. Louis Cardinals have an unofficial mascot/playoff theme of their own. Throughout the year, the Cardinals would tease Allen Craig by saying “Do it for Torty,” whenever the outfielder was up in a key situation. Torty was a reference to Craig revealing in an interview that he had a pet tortoise. When the teammates would say “Do it for Torty,” he always delivered, so the saying caught on.

Then in the NLDS, a squirrel ran onto the field at Busch Stadium in St. Louis during Game 3 and Game 4 of the playoffs. In Game 4, the squirrel likely cost the Phillies a strike. After winning the game, the Cardinals adopted the squirrel as a playoff mascot, calling it the “Rally Squirrel.”

The squirrel seemed to bring the Cardinals good luck in the NLDS, so manager Tony La Russa was asked if they would keep running with the Rally Squirrel in the NLCS. La Russa got a little carried away in animal land with his response.

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Brewers, Prince Fielder Celebrate with Sully from Monsters, Inc. (Picture)

Since August, the Milwaukee Brewers have been riding a “beast mode” theme to their offense. When players get hits, they put their arms up like they’re monsters scaring children in the movie Monsters, Inc.

Prince Fielder is the player who started the whole “beast mode” theme for the Brewers (read the entire story behind it here). When his team faced a do-or-die Game 5 against the D-Backs, they broke out all the stops. They dressed a stuffed animal of “Sully” from Monsters, Inc. in a Brewers jersey and celebrated with it on the field and in the clubhouse following the Game 5 win over Arizona.

The entire idea may seem silly — and it is — but it’s fun little things like this that help teams build chemistry. The Angels had the Rally Monkey, the Cardinals have a rally squirrel, and the Brewers have their beast mode. Hey, it works.

Ryan Howard Likely Tore His Achilles on Last At-Bat of Season

As if making an out to end your team’s season (for the second year in a row) wasn’t bad enough, Ryan Howard also likely injured his Achilles leaving the batter’s box. The Phillies first baseman was helped off the field after grounding out to end Game 5 against the Cardinals. He was also seen using crutches to get around the clubhouse after the game. Speaking following his team’s loss, Howard seemed certain he had torn his Achilles tendon.

“I was trying to run and just felt this pop,” Howard said, describing the injury. “It felt like the whole thing went numb, like it was on fire, and I just tried to keep going and I went down. It literally felt like I was on a flat tire. I tried to get up, just couldn’t do it.”

Howard told reporters he thought he tore his Achilles. He’ll have an MRI to confirm the extent of the injury.

Can you think of a worse way for a season to end? You’re the top team in the NL in the regular season and you get shutout in a decisive Game 5. Your cleanup hitter makes an out to end the game, he likely tears his Achilles, and oh yeah, the team that beat you gets to celebrate on your home field. Just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Phillies went wrong. I’m surprised Roy Halladay’s arm is still intact.

Photo Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

C.J. Wilson: Playoffs Are a Familiar Feeling for Rangers

While three of the four division round playoff series went the maximum five games, the Texas Rangers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in four games. Their offense put up eight runs in Game 2, and their pitching shut it down the next two. If they seemed comfortable, it’s because they were. They’ve advanced to the ALCS for the second straight season, and they’ve beaten the Rays both times.

Pitcher C.J. Wilson, who will start Game 1 against Justin Verlander, confirmed that’s how the team feels.

“Even though we went through Tampa Bay again, it’s not that it’s old hat, but there’s familiarity,” Wilson told SI’s Jimmy Traina. “Especially since it was just last year that we were in the playoffs. It we had like a year off, maybe it would feel new, but we have virtually the same team, so people are confident and positive about where we are.”

Yeah, they have mostly the same team, plus Mike Napoli. That guy has been a beast for them, and he should be good for the LCS despite swallowing his tobacco wad on a collision at home plate. Getting back to Wilson’s comments, feeling comfortable is important for Texas.

Wilson has a daunting task; he has to face the likely AL Cy Young winner in Game 1. If he feels like he has to do too much, and make too many great pitches in order to keep up with Verlander, he’ll likely end up in trouble. But if he maintains a calm feeling — because he’s been there before — he’ll have his best chance of competing. Of course, as an Angels fan, I’m wishing the worst for Texas.

Joaquin Benoit Had to Remove a Bandage Because it Possessed Superhero Powers

If you’re wondering why baseball is not as popular as it used to be, it’s because they allow nonsense like this to go on:

Honestly, Joe Girardi? You made Joaquin Benoit remove a bandage from his face because it was large and too much of a distraction? Serves you right that he went 1.2 key innings late in the game without allowing a run. That’s what you get for bothering with such menial rubbish.

And while we’re on the subject of Joaquin Benoit, does anyone else think it would have been a good idea for Mark Teixeira to swing 3-0 in the 7th? During the regular season, taking the walk is the right move. But when you’re down to your final seven outs of the season and down by two, I want my slugger taking his best shot on a fastball piped right down the middle. That’s just me.

Anyway, leave it to David Wells to put the bandage idiocy into proper perspective:

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