Tag:Nelson Cruz
Posted on: October 29, 2011 6:47 pm
 

Best game ever? How about best month ever?

The Yankees don't think it was such a great month. The Phillies are sure it wasn't a great month.

Oh, and the Red Sox? No, the last 31 days weren't exactly pleasant for them.

But it sure was great for the rest of us, the best month of baseball most of us have seen, or will see, in our lifetimes.

If it gets better than this, I won't complain. But I'm not planning on it.

We had the best single regular-season night ever, on the final night of the regular season, and maybe the best game ever, on the next-to-last night of the World Series.

We had so many great games that the best individual offensive performance in World Series history barely makes the list. So many that Chris Carpenter's three-hit 1-0 shutout in a winner-take-all Game 5 wasn't even his most important performance of the month.

This is the third year now that I've written a postseason recap, and it's the first time that the best game of the month wasn't the first game I saw. Nothing against Tigers-Twins (Game 163 in 2009) or Roy Halladay's no-hitter (Division Series 2010), but it's a better month when the drama builds.

This month, we saw Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, Chris Carpenter, Nelson Cruz and David Freese. We saw squirrels. We saw Na-po-li. We saw history.

We saw Game 6.

What a month.

Here's a look back:

Best game: Some people are insisting that Game 6 of the World Series can't be called great, because there were physical errors early and possible managerial errors late. Sorry, but that's ridiculous. So it wasn't the best-played game ever. Fine. It had thrills, it had drama, it had plenty to second-guess, it had great performances and gritty performances. You go ahead and say it wasn't perfect. I'm going to say it was the best game I've ever seen.

Best moment: The flashbulbs going off when Albert Pujols batted in the seventh inning of Game 7 were great. Yes, it could have been his final Cardinals at-bat. But the best moment of the postseason -- Pujols' best moment -- was when he called time out to allow the Miller Park crowd to honor Prince Fielder, who very, very likely was stepping to the plate for his final Brewers at-bat.

Best chant: In the end, maybe this wasn't the Year of the Napoli, after all. But it sure was the month of the "Na!-Po!-Li!" at Rangers Ballpark. Mike Napoli became such an instant hero that I saw a Rangers fan who had altered his year-old Cliff Lee jersey, adding "Na-po" above the "Lee."

Best crowd: It was incredibly loud all month in Texas. It was louder than ever in St. Louis for the final outs of Game 7. But everyone who was at Miller Park this month came back raving about the atmosphere and the Brewers' fans (and everyone who was at Chase Field said there was barely any atmosphere for the Diamondbacks' two home games).

Best player: Tough call. Freese was a revelation, and not just in the World Series. Cabrera was outstanding. So was Ryan Braun. But Pujols was the guy I'll remember most, from his great defensive play against the Phillies to his historic three-homer game against the Rangers.

Best movie review: Moneyball took a beating every time Cardinals manager Tony La Russa took to the podium. La Russa went to see the movie the night Game 6 was rained out, and the next night he said that it "strains the credibility a little bit." La Russa, like others, complained about the portrayal of scouts, and about the lack of mentions of Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson. "That club was carried by those guys that were signed, developed the old-fashioned way," La Russa said. "That part wasn't enjoyable, because it's a nice story but it is not accurate enough."

Most disappointing team: The Red Sox. The Phillies didn't make it out of the first round. Neither did the Yankees, who then apologized to their fans for their "failure." But Boston's collapse was so bad that it led to the departure of the manager and general manager who broke the curse. The Red Sox will recover, but they'll never be the same.

Best prediction: It's well established by now that I can't pick winners. But when the postseason began, I jokingly wrote that every series would go the distance. Turned out I was almost right, as 38 of a possible 41 games were required. Three of the four Division Series went the distance (and none were sweeps). Both League Championship Series went six games. And the World Series went seven, for the first time in nine years. Oh, and I even picked the World Series winner, Cardinals in 7, even if I did it because Rangers officials demanded that I pick against them.

Five who helped themselves: 1. Pujols. I'm not saying it makes a difference in his final free-agent price, but a great postseason reminded all of us how good he really is.

2. John Mozeliak. You think Cardinals fans will finally admit that it was a good idea to trade Colby Rasmus to help this team win now?

3. Mike Napoli. The Angels traded this guy for Vernon Wells. The Blue Jays then traded this guy for Frank Francisco. The Rangers will not be trading him.

4. Ryan Braun. MVP voting includes only the regular season, and not the postseason. But anyone who chose Braun over Matt Kemp in the National League race had to be happy to see him hit .405 with a 1.182 OPS in October.

5. David Freese. He was the best story of the month, the hometown kid who quit baseball after high school, and came back to become the World Series MVP. Now everyone knows him.

Five who hurt themselves: 1. C.J. Wilson. He's still going to get overpaid on the free-agent market, but imagine how much he might have gotten if he'd had a good October, instead of a lousy one.

2. CC Sabathia. He's still going to get a great new contract, too, but imagine how much he might have gotten if his postseason ERA was 1.23, instead of 6.23 (and if his waist size didn't expand just as fast).

3. Cliff Lee. The team he left went to the World Series without him. And the team he couldn't beat in Game 2, after his teammates gave him a 4-0 lead, went on to win the World Series.

4. Alex Rodriguez. Two years ago, he had a nice October and shed the label of postseason choker. This year, he went 2-for-18 against the Tigers and appeared on the back page of the New York Post as one of the Three Stooges (along with Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira).

5. Tony La Russa (for about 48 hours). I'm guessing Cardinals fans will now totally forgive him for the phone/noise/bullpen mess from Game 5. He's now the guy who has won two World Series in St. Louis, to go with the one he won in Oakland. Still one of the very best managers in the game -- in the history of the game, that is.


Posted on: October 28, 2011 4:07 pm
Edited on: October 28, 2011 7:50 pm
 

Cruz, Napoli in Rangers' Game 7 lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Mike Napoli is hurting. Nelson Cruz is hurting.

But it's Game 7.

It's Game 7 of the World Series, and both Napoli (left ankle) and Cruz (right groin) are in the Rangers' lineup for Friday night's game at Busch Stadium. Both were regarded as questionable after getting hurt in Thursday's incredible Game 6.

Napoli, in line for World Series MVP honors if the Rangers win, hurt his ankle when he went into second base awkwardly in the fourth inning Thursday. He stayed in the game, but said afterwards that the ankle was "pretty sore."

"He showed the type of warrior he is," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "If you hadn't seen him hurt the ankle, you wouldn't have even known it was hurt."

Cruz left the game after batting in the top of the 11th inning. The Rangers believe he got hurt banging into the wall trying to catch David Freese's game-tying triple in the ninth inning.

Cruz was in more doubt Friday, but the Rangers decided after batting practice that he was good enough to go. The Rangers didn't seriously consider removing him from the World Series roster, in part because they thought that at the very least he could give them a pinch-hit at-bat.

While Napoli and Cruz are in the lineup, Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday is out. Holliday severely injured his right pinky when he was picked off third base in the sixth inning. The Cardinals replaced him on the roster with Adron Chambers, and Allen Craig replaced him in the Cardinals lineup for Game 7.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa made another lineup change, dropping Rafael Furcal out of the leadoff spot for the first time this postseason, and putting Ryan Theriot atop the order.

Furcal sparked the Cardinals for a while, and his first-inning triple was the biggest hit in their 1-0 Game 5 Division Series win over the Phillies. But in his last 11 games, Furcal has hit just .128 (6-for-47) with a .196 on-base percentage.

Full lineups for both teams are in Matt Snyder's excellent Game 7 preview, available here.


Posted on: October 28, 2011 3:48 am
 

Rangers bullpen is fine; Cruz, Napoli may not be

ST. LOUIS -- Ron Washington said he'll have his full bullpen available for Game 7 of the World Series.

"I've got it all," the Rangers manager said after Thursday night's Game 6.

What about Derek Holland, the Game 4 winner who gave him two innings in Game 6?

"I've got it all," Washington repeated. "There's only one game left."

He has his bullpen, but will he have his catcher? Will he have his right fielder?

"We'll just wait and see," Washington said, about both catcher Mike Napoli and right fielder Nelson Cruz, who were hurt during Game 6.

Napoli had X-rays on his right ankle, which he hurt in the fourth inning Thursday (but stayed in the game). Cruz strained his right groin on his final at-bat, in the 11th inning, and left the game.

Both said they hope to play Friday.

"It's pretty sore," said Napoli, a possible World Series MVP if the Rangers win. "I'll try to do everything I can to play. We'll ice it, and keep it elevated."

Napoli was hurt when he went in awkwardly to second base on a Colby Lewis bunt. Napoli said he thought the Cardinals were throwing the ball to first base, which explains (sort of) why he didn't slide.

He played seven innings after getting hurt, was on base three more times and made the defensive play of the night when he picked Matt Holliday off third base in the sixth inning.

"He showed the type of warrior he is," Washington said. "If you hadn't seen him hurt the ankle, you wouldn't have even known it was hurt."

Washington used seven relievers Thursday, basically everyone he had available. But none of the relievers threw more than 23 pitches.

Washington explained his tougher decisions in Game 6.

He said he never planned to hit for Lewis in the fifth inning, and that he sent a pinch hitter out on deck as a decoy.

"I certainly wasn't ready to take Colby out," he said. "He was throwing the ball well."

He said he went to left-hander Darren Oliver in the 10th inning, rather than sticking with Feliz, because he felt good about the matchup.

"I thought the [Cardinal] lineup set up perfectly, with two lefties and the pitcher," he said.

And Washington said he didn't believe that the problem on David Freese's game-tying triple was that Cruz was playing too shallow in right field.

"Look at the replay, and you'll see he froze on the ball," Washington said. "If he gets back like he should, he catches it. When [Freese] hit it, I knew we had him. I thought it would be caught, for sure.

"It didn't work out that way."

Finally, in the top of the 11th, Washington said he originally planned to send Yorvit Torrealba up to hit for pitcher Scott Feldman, with two out and a runner on first. Right then, he was told that Cruz's groin injury would force him out of the game, and force the Rangers to put Esteban German in the outfield.

Rather than hit Torrealba and burn his final two position players, Washington sent German up to bat for Feldman instead. German grounded out, and minutes later, Freese won the game with his home run off Mark Lowe.


Posted on: October 28, 2011 12:40 am
Edited on: October 28, 2011 12:42 am
 

More Cardinal miracles, and on to Game 7

ST. LOUIS -- At this point, how would you ever think the Cardinals can lose?

Seriously, what would convince you? Down 10 runs with one out to go?

They were done in the regular season, they seemed done a few times in the playoffs and they sure seemed done in Game 6 of the World Series on Thursday night.

In the ninth inning. In the 10th inning.

If needed, they no doubt would have gone to the 100th inning, and they still wouldn't have lost.

They're not done. They're still not done.

They won Game 6 in the 11th inning on hometown kid David Freese's home run, and now we're off to Game 7 on Friday.

How did it happen? I'm sure I'm missing something, but here goes:

Down to their last strike in the ninth, the Cardinals got a two-run game-tying triple from Freese, off Rangers closer Neftali Feliz. Then, after Josh Hamilton's 10th-inning home run put the Rangers on the verge again, the Cardinals were down to their last strike again -- before Lance Berkman's single tied it again.

Incredible.

The ninth-inning rally began with an Albert Pujols double, his first hit since his historic three-homer Game 3. It was yet another in a series of possible Pujols final at-bats as a Cardinal in Busch Stadium, but it began the rally that helped ensure he'll play at least one more game.

And why not?

It's been a fantastic World Series. Thursday's game wasn't always pretty, with five errors, but it sure was exciting.

And now there will be a Game 7.

Posted on: October 20, 2011 1:36 am
 

For the Rangers, it's the lucky seventh spot

ST. LOUIS -- Ron Washington finally moved Nelson Cruz out of the seventh spot in the Rangers' batting order.

He moved Cruz up to sixth. He moved Mike Napoli down to seventh.

Naturally, in Game 1 of the World Series, Napoli homered to give the Rangers their only two runs in a 3-2 loss to the Cardinals.

Of course.

You want to hit home runs? Bat seventh for the Rangers.

You want a guy to hit a home run? Bat him seventh.

Cruz hit a record six home runs against the Tigers, all from the seventh spot. Napoli bats seventh one game, and he homers, too.

So the Rangers have seven homers from the seventh spot, in just 11 postseason games.

The Royals had six home runs from the seventh spot all season -- in 162 games. The Rays and Giants only had seven apiece.

Washington said Wednesday afternoon that he plans to bat Cruz sixth throughout the World Series. He resisted the move during the ALCS, but said he's making it now because Cruz is so hot and needs more protection in the lineup.

"Now that he's found his stroke and we're in the World Series, I just feel I need to protect him," Washington said. "Mike Napoli is great protection."

And when Mike Napoli -- or any other Ranger -- hits seventh, that really is great protection.

Posted on: October 19, 2011 3:37 pm
Edited on: October 19, 2011 6:30 pm
 

Rangers move ALCS MVP Cruz to 6th in lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Even as Nelson Cruz was hitting a record six home runs in the American League Championship Series, Rangers manager Ron Washington resisted any urge to move him up in the batting order.

For every game in the ALCS -- in fact, for every playoff game so far -- Cruz has batted seventh.

"He's doing well right there," Washington said before the Rangers' clinching win in Game 6 against the Tigers.

For Game 1 of the World Series, Cruz will bat sixth. Washington announced a lineup with Mike Napoli batting behind Cruz for the first time this postseason.

The first two games of the World Series will be played without a designated hitter, but that doesn't change the Rangers lineup much. Michael Young plays first base, so the player who comes out of the lineup is someone who would bat eighth or ninth. By moving Cruz up, though, Washington puts him further from the pitcher's spot, but Washington said Wednesday that his plan is to continue to bat Cruz sixth even when the DH returns for the games in Texas.

Washington said that he originally put Cruz in the seventh spot when he returned from injury in September, because the first six spots in the lineup were set and working well at that point.

"Now that he's found his stride, and we're in the World Series, he needs protection," Washington said. "Mike Napoli is good protection."
 
The Rangers lineup:

Ian Kinsler, 2b
Elvis Andrus, ss
Josh Hamilton, cf
Michael Young, 1b
Adrian Beltre, 3b
Nelson Cruz, rf
Mike Napoli, c
David Murphy, lf
C.J. Wilson, p

And the Cardinals lineup:

Rafael Furcal, ss
Jon Jay, cf
Albert Pujols, 1b
Matt Holliday, lf
Lance Berkman, rf
David Freese, 3b
Yadier Molina, c
Nick Punto, 2b
Chris Carpenter, p
Posted on: October 15, 2011 11:40 pm
Edited on: October 15, 2011 11:42 pm
 

Who needs starters? Rangers in World Series again

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Rangers needed one great starting pitcher to get to the World Series last year.

They needed no great starters to get them there again.

No great starters (and no Cliff Lee), but a great bullpen.

And a great lineup, led by the great Nelson Cruz, who out-Reggie'd Reggie and became the first player ever with six home runs in a postseason series.

To close out an American League Championship Series full of tense games, the Rangers turned Game 6 into a pennant-clinching blowout early on Saturday night, scoring nine times in the third inning alone to send a tough but ultimately overmatched Tiger team home for the winter. The Rangers went on to win 15-5, and (no surprise) Cruz was named the series Most Valuable Player.

The Rangers are the AL's first repeat champions since the Yankees' four-year run from 1997-2001, and they'll try to become the first team since the 1988-89 A's to win a World Series a year after losing one.

They got there last year with Lee leading a strong rotation. They got there this year despite a rotation that has been subpar from the moment the playoffs began.

Against the Tigers, the four Ranger starters combined for a 6.59 ERA. They still haven't thrown a pitch in the seventh inning in 10 postseason games, and have averaged fewer than five innings a start.

Saturday, manager Ron Washington pulled Derek Holland two outs into the fifth inning, with the Rangers holding a 9-4 lead.

Holland started twice in the ALCS, lasting just 7 1/3 innings in the two starts combined while giving up seven runs.

The Rangers won both of his starts.

But enough about what went wrong for the Rangers, because basically everything except for the starting pitching went right. What went most right Saturday was the Rangers' deep lineup, and especially cleanup hitter Michael Young.

Young doubled two times in the third inning alone, and later added a home run.

The other thing that went right the entire series, and for that matter the entire postseason so far: The Ranger bullpen.

In fact, for all the talk about the injuries that hurt the Tigers, the biggest difference between these two teams was that Washington had multiple relievers he could trust, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland basically had just two.

Look at Game 2, when Washington pulled Holland in the third inning with the Rangers down 3-2. The Tigers didn't score again, and the Rangers won on Cruz's 11th-inning grand slam.

In Saturday's Game 6, Leyland pulled Max Scherzer in the third inning with the Tigers down 3-2. The Rangers scored six more times in that inning alone.

The Rangers' top four relievers -- Neftali Feliz, Mike Adams, Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman -- were all brilliant in the series. The Tigers had Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit, and little else.

Last year, the Rangers rode strong starting pitching into the World Series, and lost when their starters got outpitched by the Giants once they got there.

This year, they won a different way.

The big thing is they won, and they're going back, to begin play Wednesday night in either St. Louis or Milwaukee.

This is a franchise that had no World Series appearances through its first 49 years, through two cities and 23 managers.

Now they have two straight.

One with Cliff Lee. One without him.


Posted on: October 12, 2011 10:33 pm
 

Cabrera walks, but Cruz, Napoli give Texas a win

DETROIT -- Ron Washington pitched to Miguel Cabrera, and the Rangers lost Game 3. Wrong move.

Ron Washington walked Miguel Cabrera, and the Rangers won Game 4 in 11 innings.

Right move?

Doesn't really matter at this point, does it? The Rangers are one win away from the World Series, up three games to one over Cabrera's Tigers in what has already been a fascinating and thrilling American League Championship Series.

Oh, and it's not Cabrera dominating this series. It's Nelson Cruz.

It's not Cabrera who had the biggest moments of Wednesday's game. It was Cruz -- and Mike Napoli.

Cruz threw Cabrera out at the plate, after Washington put him on base with a bases-empty intentional walk in the eighth inning. Napoli threw Austin Jackson out trying to steal, allowing the Rangers to strand Cabrera on deck in the 10th.

Then Napoli put the Rangers ahead with a one-out single in the 11th. And Cruz followed with a three-run home run, his second extra-inning homer of the series and his 10th career postseason home run.

He's had a great series. The Rangers are having a great series.

It's been a great series to watch.

And now Justin Verlander starts Game 5 Thursday with the Tigers trying to save their season and send the ALCS to Texas.




 
 
 
 
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