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Game Changer: Cruz ends Game 2 with a walk-off slam

ARLINGTON -- Nelson Cruz has hit some big walk-off home runs in his career -- what walk-off home run isn't big? -- but nobody has ever hit one like this.

This one made Major League history and brought to an end one of the most dramatic and tension-filled games ever seen at the Ballpark in Arlington. Cruz hit the first walk-off grand slam in postseason history in the 11th inning to give the Rangers a 7-3 victory over the Tigers on Monday in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.

"It's great ... I can't describe how I feel," Cruz said after being mobbed at home plate and then given the traditional beer shower in the clubhouse. It was the fifth walk-off home run of his career but first in the playoffs.

The game went into extra innings because Cruz also tied it with a seventh-inning home run off of Tigers starter Max Scherzer.

"An unbelievable game," said third baseman Adrian Beltre, who just missed a walk-off home run in the ninth inning. "It was one of those games that both teams had plenty of chances, but Nellie came up big and got two big hits for us."

The victory, before 51,227 fans, put the Rangers up 2-0 in the ALCS with Game 3 scheduled for Tuesday night at Comerica Park in Detroit. Of the 21 teams that have taken a 2-0 lead in a best-of-seven LCS since 1985, 18 have gone on to win the series.

"This was an instant classic ... an unbelievable baseball game," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "Both teams played well, both pitching staffs did an unbelievable job, both teams played great defense ... it was just an incredible baseball game."

"It has been two great games," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "They earned it, and we didn't quite get it done."

Cruz delivered the two big home runs, but the Rangers' bullpen was just as huge. Rangers starter Derek Holland lasted just 2 2/3 innings, giving up a three-run home run to Ryan Raburn in the third inning. That gave the Tigers a 3-2 lead, but five relievers followed Holland with 8 1/3 scoreless innings.

Scott Feldman led the way with 4 1/3 one-hit innings. He was followed by Alexi Ogando, Michael Gonzalez, Neftali Feliz and winning pitcher Mike Adams, and they combined to allow four hits and two walks while striking out eight.

"A pretty great game ... our bullpen did an incredible job," catcher Mike Napoli said.

"Feldman and Nellie were our two big guys tonight," designated hitter Michael Young said. "This was a lot of fun. That is what postseason baseball is all about. That's one you'll remember for a long time."

Young led off the bottom of the 11th by bouncing a single through the left side against Tigers reliever Ryan Perry. Young was hitless in his last 15 at-bats before that single. Beltre followed with a single to center, putting runners on first and second.

Napoli followed with a fly to right-center that fell between center fielder Austin Jackson and right fielder Andy Dirks. Young, who was planning to tag up anyway, stopped at third to load the bases.

That brought up Cruz, who was hit by a pitch in the right forearm in the ninth. This time he fouled off a couple of sliders and then took a fastball for a ball.

"I was really aggressive with my first two swings and then thought about just hitting a fly ball," Cruz said.

Perry threw another slider, and Cruz did hit a fly ball -- high and deep to left.

"I just wanted it to stay straight because he had hooked a few foul," Kinsler said.

"Just get out ... that's all I could say," Holland said, watching from the dugout. "I figured it would be a sacrifice fly or a home run -- a home run was even better."

The Rangers just needed something. They were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position going into the 11th and had blown a huge opportunity in the ninth against All-Star closer Jose Valverde. They had the bases loaded and nobody out in that inning but couldn't score. They did not want to squander another chance to put the Tigers away.

"You've got two teams competing that will not quit," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We certainly had an opportunity earlier in the game with the bases loaded and didn't get it done. That time we got it done. It was one heck of a game."

The Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a single by Elvis Andrus, an RBI double by Josh Hamilton and a two-out double by Beltre. But Holland couldn't take advantage of it.

He faced just 17 batters and nine reached base on four hits, four walks and one hit batter. He allowed five baserunners in the first two innings and was able to keep the Tigers from scoring. But his luck ended when Raburn hit a three-run home run in the third.

"I couldn't get my fastball down," Holland said. "I felt great out of the bullpen, but I couldn't command my fastball."

The bullpen picked him up, especially Feldman, and kept it a one-run game against Scherzer until the seventh. That's when Cruz tied it with a home run. He now has three in the first two games after going 1-for-15 in the AL Division Series against the Rays.

"When Nellie is locked in like this, he can do some damage," Andrus said. "We have seen it before."

But never one quite like this to end one of the greatest baseball games ever played at the Ballpark in Arlington.

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