McAdam: History made in Rangers' walk-off win


McAdam: History made in Rangers' walk-off win

By Sean McAdam

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 Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam.

McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona

McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona

Sometime over the next 10 or so days, either the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians will win the 2016 World Series.

Naturally, that will mean one of baseball's two longest-suffering franchises will end their championship drought. Either the Cubs will win their first title since 1908, or the Indians will win for the first time since 1948.

That alone should make for an epic World Series.

But there's another bit of history at stake, too - one of legacies.

In addition to the great discomfort felt by Red Sox ownership -- which fired the manager of one participating team and was seemingly happy to hold the door open for the exit of an executive now running the other - it will also almost certainly result, eventually, in either Terry Francona or Theo Epstein being enshrined into the Hall of Fame.

Epstein would go down as the architect who helped two star-crossed franchises win titles - the Red Sox in 2004, and the Cubs this fall.

The Red Sox went 86 years between championships; the Cubs would be ending a run of futility that stretched across 108 seasons.

That would provide Epstein with an unmatched resume when it comes to degree of difficulty. It's one thing to win it all; it's another altogether to do so with the Sox and Cubs, two clubs, until Epstein's arrival, linked in ignominy.

Epstein could become only the fourth GM in modern history win a World Series in both leagues. Frank Cashen (Orioles and Mets); John Schuerholz (Royals and Braves) and Pat Gillick (Blue Jays and Phillies).

He would also join a short list of executives who have won three rings, a list that includes contemporaries Brian Cashman and Brian Sabean.

Of course, Epstein can't claim to have constructed the entire Cubs roster, no more than he could have done when the Red Sox won in '04.

In Boston, Epstein inherited key players such as Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. Similarly, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras pre-date Epstein's arrival on the North Side.

But Epstein is responsible for nearly the remainder of the roster, and hiring manager Joe Maddon, the coaching staff and most of the Baseball Operations staff, including GM Jed Hoyer and scouting director Jason McLeod.

Francona's influence on the Indians is just as obvious.

Hired in late 2012 after spending a year in the ESPN broadcast booth, he inherited a team which had suffered through four straight losing seasons. In the five previous years before Francona's hiring, the Indians averaged just over 72 wins per season.

Since his arrival, the Indians have posted four straight winning seasons, with two playoff appearances, while averaging 88 wins per season.

It hasn't seemed to matter to the Indians that they've been without two of their three best starters (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) this postseason or arguably, their best offensive player for all but 11 games this season (Michael Brantley).

The Indians don't make excuses for injuries, or bemoan their modest payroll. Under Francona, they just win.

This postseason, he's made up for the absences in the rotation by masterfully utilizing reliever Andrew Miller anywhere from the fifth to the ninth inning.

A third World Series would put Francona in similarly rare company. Only 10 managers have won three or more World Series and just six have done so since World War 2 - Walter Alston, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Bruce Bochy Sparky Anderson and Casey Stengel.

The individual accomplishments of Epstein and Francona won't take center stage this week and next -- that attention will, rightly, go to their respective beleaguered franchises.

But the subtext shouldn't be overlooked. Once the partying and the parades come to an end, a path to Cooperstown for either the winning manager or winning president of baseball operations can be cleared.


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.