Red Sox

McAdam: History made in Rangers' walk-off win

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McAdam: History made in Rangers' walk-off win

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Bobby Thomson didn't do it. Neither did Kirk Gibson or Bill Mazeroski. Or Carlton Fisk or Joe Carter or Chris Chambliss, for that matter.

Sure, each of those players hit historic, postseason homers for their teams. Some -- including Carter and Mazeroski -- actually won championships.

But let the record show that none ever did what Nelson Cruz did on Monday night at The Ballpark in Arlington.

With the score tied in the bottom of the 11th inning, Cruz unloaded on a pitch from Ryan Perry, drilling it deep into the seats in left, winning ALCS Game 2 for the Texas Rangers, 7-3.

Walkoff homers in the postseason are one thing. But Cruz became the first player in baseball history to wallop a postseason walkoff grand slam.

That covers more than a hundred World Series, 80 League Championship Series and all the Division Series since the new format was introduced in 1995.

Hundreds of games. An untold number of chances. And no one did what Cruz did.

(Robin Ventura came awfully close, of course, hitting a bases-loaded homer to win Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS for the New York Mets over the Atlanta Braves. But in a bizarre twist, Ventura never found his way to home plate amid the mad on-field celebrations and hours later, was credited with just a single. That kept Ventura out of the record books and ruined plenty of gamblers who had action on the over-under or margin of victory).

Cruz might seem to be an unlikely hero in a lineup that features Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre and Michael Young.

But in the last two Octobers, Cruz has demonstrated a flair for the dramatic. In 22 postseason games, Cruz, who belted a solo homer in the seventh to tie the game at 3-3, has nine homers. In all of baseball history, only Carlos Beltran has homered more often (11) in his first 22 postseason games.

Among players with at least 75 postseason career at-bats, Cruz's 9.11 at-bat-to-homer ratio is the fourth best all-time, behind only Beltran (7.45), Babe Ruth (8.60) and Troy Glaus (8.67).

Cruz himself was told of the historic nature of his accomplishment and was surprised that baseball had never had a postseason walkoff grand slam.

"All those years, you would think it had been done before," Cruz said. "It's special."

And never mind the history-making nature of the grand slam. After the ninth inning, Cruz was happy to still be in the game.

Detroit closer Jose Valverde tried to get a fastball in on Cruz in that inning and ended up drilling him in the right wrist. Cruz went down in great pain, writhing on the ground.

"He was scared," confirmed manager Ron Washington, who rushed out to check on his fallen slugger, "because he got it in the wrist. It was black and blue . . . But after the doctor checked him and told him he was fine, then Nelson got up."

"When I got hit, I thought it was worse," said Cruz.

Two innings later, his hand sore but manageable, Cruz came to the plate with the bases loaded.

A bit over-eager, he drove a pitch from Perry deep to left, but foul. Determined to stay back a little, Cruz got another chance and drove a pitch off the foul pole.

The minute it left the bat, a Texas victory seemed assured -- as long as the ball stayed in fair territory. With the bases loaded and no out, a deep enough flyout would have scored Young from third base.

But Cruz left no room for argument, clearing the bases, and giving him homers in each of his last three LCS games. He also homered in Saturday's Game 1 and, dating back to last October, hit one in Game 6 against the New York Yankees.

And unlike Ventura -- whose name is now strangely linked to Rangers' lore a second time, following his ill-advised charge of Nolan Ryan's mound 1993 and the resulting noogie-pounding he took from the then 46-year-old pitcher -- Cruz made sure to touch 'em all as he rounded the bases.

Anybody, of course, can hit a postseason walkoff single. But nobody had ever done what Nelson Cruz did Monday.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam.

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

For the glass-is-half-full folks, there are those back-to-back Eastern Division titles. For the glass-is-half-empty folks, well, there are those two first-round playoff ousters (though both their conquerers made it to the World Series, and one of them won it). But, here on Thanksgiving night, there's plenty for Red Sox Nation to be thankful for, starting with . . . 


YOUR GOOD HEALTH

We know you don’t need the Red Sox to know you how important the most basic elements of life are. But sometimes, the typical fantasy land of baseball can grab our attention. The death of 17-year-old Sox prospect Daniel Flores (above) this month from complications because of cancer didn’t take away only a potentially great baseball career. It took away a beloved, hard-working young person from the people who loved him. He had just made millions of dollars in July for his talent on the field, but what does such a windfall matter compared to one’s health? His cancer was both rare and fast-moving, per the Boston Globe.

MOOKIE, JACKIE, XANDER, BENINTENDI, DEVERS

The kids deserve some love. They probably won’t be together on the Red Sox forever. Heck, the group could get broken up this winter. But while any of the Killer B’s (plus a D) remain on the Sox, there should be a sense of optimism. Two straight 93-win seasons may have resulted in a first-round exit, and 2017 didn’t meet expectations for some individual performances. But you know what? The youths are still damn good, and there’s time for them to show us they can be even better.

INSANELY GOOD PITCHERS IN CHRIS SALE AND CRAIG KIMBREL

Neither hogs the spotlight once the game ends or says too much. Sale doesn’t even have Twitter. But the righty closer and lefty starter both do two things exceedingly well: make batters swing and miss, and prevent runs. When both pitch, your seat at the park may well be worth the price of admission. (But we won’t ask what you paid for those seats.) Sale didn’t take down Pedro Martinez’s Sox single-season strikeout record this year, finishing with five fewer than Martinez’s 313 in 1999. But he could have done it. And with a little more rest next year, one can envision him plowing his way through playoff opponents too.

ALEX CORA'S NEW DIRECTION

A first-time manager’s not a sure thing, but as Sox owner John Henry noted, there was a feeling it was time for a change. It’s a little early to be thinking ahead to a New Year’s resolution, but a manager who better connects with his players and brings a different vibe to the day-to-day scene is reason to feel the Sox are following the right road map. Plus, if nothing else, Cora took that awesome picture walking toward Fenway.

A CHRISTMAS SHOPPING SPREE MAY BE AROUND THE CORNER

We don’t want to be too materialistic. But Uncle Dave Dombrowski couldn’t let you buy everything you wanted last year. The credit card companies needed him to step back for a year. Now he’s ready to spend. He might not close down Bloomingdale’s for the day for you to do your private shopping, but if you need a couple great jackets to complete your look, it sounds like he’s ready to get you some designer threads. He probably feels there won’t be too many chances to have a moment like this with you, at this stage of your life, and he wants to make the most of it.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

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Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel.