DETROIT, MI: Nelson Cruz #17 and Adrian Beltre #29 of the Texas Rangers celebrate after Cruz's three run home run in the 11th inning of Game Four of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Thanks largely to Nelson Cruz's arm and his bat, the Rangers beat the Tigers 7-3 in Game 4 of the ALCS, taking a commanding series lead.
Where should we start?
With the end: Tuesday night in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, Nelson Cruz's three-run homer capped a four-run rally that gave the Texas Rangers a 7-3 victory and a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
It wasn't until the end that either team seemed to have any real control of the proceedings. In the fourth, Miguel Cabrera's two-run double gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead, but with Rick Porcello pitching for Detroit, two runs didn't exactly seem a safe lead.
In retrospect, anyway. Because with the score still 2-0 in the sixth, the Rangers bunched together four hits off Porcello to go ahead 3-2. And while Texas starter Matt Harrison had pitched his last, his relief help has been so good lately that even a one-run lead seemed semi-safe.
Alexi Ogando is really tough on right-handed hitters. In regular-season action, he's held them to a .201 batting average and five home runs in 354 at-bats.
Brandon Inge has never been much against right-handed pitchers. In his long career, he's got a .223 batting average against righties, albeit with some power. Oh, and Inge spent most of this August in the minors, and played sparingly for the big club in September.
None of which seemed to matter much in the bottom of the seventh inning, after Inge drove one of Ogando's high-90s heaters just beyond the left-field wall to turn a one-run deficit into a tie.
The top of the eighth inning was uneventful.
The bottom of the eighth inning was eventful.
Mike Adams, the Rangers' eighth-inning guy, came in to pitch and retired leadoff man Ryan Raburn in good order. That brought up Miguel Cabrera. He's really scary, of course, but there was nobody on base and Adams is really tough on right-handed hitters and how much damage might Cabrera do, anyway?
Plenty, in Ron Washington's mind. It's quite possible that you've never seen a manager order an intentional walk with nobody on base. Unless you were watching Game 4 of the 2011 American League Championship Series, in which case that's exactly what you saw in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Cabrera took his base, bringing up Victor Martinez. Who's a switch-hitter, but a perhaps-injured switch-hitter, which is perhaps why Washington wasn't worried about HIM.
Except Martinez pulled a single through the right side of the infield and Cabrera barreled into third base. Lead run, just 90 feet away, and Washington was on the verge of being Most Second-Guessed Manager of the Year.
Then Nelson Cruz saved him. Nelson Cruz throws really, really well. Delmon Young fought off some good pitches from Adams, ultimately hitting a fly ball to fairly deep right field. Cruz gathered in the out, then unleashed an absolutely perfect throw homeward, the ball arriving after one hop in the mitt of Mike Napoli, who was fully prepared to tag the onrushing Cabrera, out by nine feet.
And so ended the eighth, eventfully.
The ninth was only moderately eventful. The top of the ninth inning ended when Cruz, who had walked, took off for second base and was easily thrown out by the pitcher. The bottom of the ninth ended when Ramon Santiago fouled off six straight Darren Oliver pitches before finally lifting Oliver's 12th offering for an easy fly ball.
Managing at home, Jim Leyland went to his closer in the top of the 10th, and Jose Valverde retired the Rangers in order. Managing on the road, Washington left his closer in the bullpen in the 10th, and instead went to Scott Feldman. He walked speedy Austin Jackson, who was soon erased trying to steal second by Mike Napoli's perfect peg.*
* Somewhere, Mike Scioscia was just shaking his head, muttering to himself.
Once again, everything worked out for Ron Washington.
Valverde came back out for the 11th, and his first pitch to Josh Hamilton was a hanging splitter that Hamilton lined into the right-field corner for a leadoff double.
Michael Young could have bunted Hamilton to third, but instead he struck out. Leyland could have ordered Valverde to pitch to Adrian Beltre, but instead he ordered the intentional walk, presumably to set up the inning-ending double play.
Mike Napoli made a hash of that plan with a soft single into center field that plated Hamilton with the lead run. And Cruz destroyed it with his three-run blast.
Feliz finally appeared in the bottom of the 11th, and dispatched the Tigers in order. And deep in the heart of Texas, a lot of baseball fans are making World Series plans.