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.

As expected, Red Sox send Swihart to Pawtucket

As expected, Red Sox send Swihart to Pawtucket

Blake Swihart wasn't going to win a job. Monday merely made that official.

Swihart was optioned out as the Red Sox made further cuts, sending a player who could still be the Red Sox catcher of the future -- well, one of them anyway -- to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he's expected to work on his receiving.

Swihart hit .325 in 40 Grapefruit League at-bats.

"Had a very strong camp and showed improvements defensively. Swung the bat very well," manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida.  "For the player that he is and the person that he is, you love him as a person. He's a hell of a talented player.

"He made some subtle adjustments with his setup [defensively]. That gave him a different look to pitchers on the mound. Pitchers talked positively about the look that they got from him behind the plate. I think it softened his hands somewhat to receive the ball better. And there were a number of occasions where he was able to get a pitchers' pitch called for a strike, so the presentation of the umpire was a little bit more subtle and consistent then maybe years' past."

Sandy Leon's hot hitting in 2016 earned him an automatic crack at the lead catching spot for this year. Combined with the fact that Christian Vazquez looks great defensively, went deep on Sunday and is out of options, Swihart was the obvious odd man out.

He had options, the others didn't.

Deven Marrero was also optioned to Pawtucket. Sam Travis -- who, like Swihart, could break camp with the 2018 team -- was reassigned to minor-league camp, as was catcher Dan Butler.

The Sox have 38 players left in camp, 32 from the 40-man roster.

Red Sox reliever Tyler Thornburg likely headed to disabled list

Red Sox reliever Tyler Thornburg likely headed to disabled list

Righty Tyler Thornburg seems a guarantee to join David Price on the disabled list to start the season.

Thornburg, the biggest acquisition Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made for the bullpen this winter, was scratched Monday because of a spasm in his upper right trapezius — not a great sign for a pitcher who already had throwing shoulder issues this spring.

Sox manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida the spasm was “not shoulder related.”  But the trap, a large muscle along the neck and back, does extend to the shoulder blade.

Dombrowski told reporters it is most likely that Thornburg starts the year on the disabled list. More is expected to be known Tuesday, possibly after an MRI.

Robby Scott could be a replacement for Thornburg. If so, the Sox would likely have three lefties in the bullpen, along with Fernando Abad and Robbie Ross Jr.

"Possibly. Possibly," Dombrowski said of Scott. “We still have to make those decisions. But possibly.”

Dombrowski didn’t indicate a desire to go outside the organization for now.

Thornburg had barely enough time to get ready for Opening Day prior to Monday’s setback. If he indeed starts the season on the DL, Joe Kelly would be the eighth-inning reliever for the Sox — a role Kelly was headed for anyway given Thornburg’s shaky spring.

Thornburg, 28, had a 2.15 ERA last season for the Brewers. The Sox picked him up at the winter meetings in a deal that sent Travis Shaw and prospects to the Milwaukee Brewers.