Nelson Cruz didn’t play a full MLB season until he was 28 years old. Often given the label of a AAAA player that could rake in AAA, but would flop at the big league level, he finally got over that hump and made it to the big league roster in 2008 for a full season for the Rangers (though not before Texas ran him through waivers in 2007 and he went unclaimed by every team). Perhaps his ascension to an everyday MLB outfielder would have been a little quicker if his employers were aware of his knack for delivering late inning, game winning hits.
In the bottom of the 10th inning of Saturday night’s 4-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins, it was Cruz’s double that was scorched to left that plated Adrian Beltre for the game-winning run. Cruz had just missed hitting a go-ahead home run in the 8th inning for the Rangers, but returned in the 10th to finish the job. For the night, he finished 3-5 with two doubles, and was flashing the type of approach and swing that he can when he is locked in.
Of course, an extra innings game-winning hit for Cruz is not out of the ordinary. In 2010, he accomplished that feat an MLB record five times (all on home runs), and added on another walk-off in the 9th inning of one game (on a double). Perhaps even more memorable than those six clinchers was his performance in game 2 of the 2011 ALCS, when Cruz sent a grand slam high into the night sky in Arlington in the 11th inning to give Texas a 2-0 series lead over the Detroit Tigers. Including postseason play, Nelson Cruz is now hitting .289/.325/.895 in 40 extra innings plate appearances for his career. He has 11 extra innings hits, seven of which have been home runs, to go along with two doubles and two singles.
A win was badly needed for Texas to stop a 5-game losing streak and guarantee their division lead remained at four games. A walk-off win is the cherry on top. Perhaps even better than that, Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, and Cruz all looked like they were poised to break out of their prolonged slumps at the plate. The All-Star break may interrupt those breakouts, but a game like Saturday night could be a confidence boost that can carry over until the start of the back half of the season.
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