October 13, 2011
But of all the great defensive moments of the postseason, the double play Nelson Cruz(notes) and Mike Napoli(notes) of the Texas Rangers turned Wednesday night might have been the best simply because of the timing. The Rangers probably don't take Game 4 of the ALCS 7-3 — after Cruz and Napoli came up big at the plate in the 11th inning — without their earlier defensive heroics.
[Related: Rangers' Nelson Cruz bruises Tigers again]
The Detroit Tigers were threatening to break a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the eighth after Victor Martinez(notes) singled against Mike Adams(notes) to put runners at the corners with one out. The tactic of Rangers manager Ron Washington — intentionally walking slugger Miguel Cabrera(notes) with nobody on base — appeared to be backfiring, as the go-ahead run stood 90 feet from scoring.
With two strikes, Delmon Young(notes) lifted a fly ball to fairly deep right; Cruz circled under, got some forward momentum and made the catch. Tigers third base coach Gene Lamont, as many other coaches would have done, sent Cabrera lumbering home. Cruz's throw home bounced once but was otherwise perfect, and Napoli had the ball while Cabrera still had 10 feet to run.
Kevin Goldstein tweeted that Cruz's throw — taking the ball from his glove and getting it to Napoli's mitt — took 3.38 seconds.
[Related: Five moves that backfired on the Tigers]
Cruz said he wanted to give his catcher every opportunity to finish the play:
"In that situation you want to get behind the ball," Cruz said. "Thank God I made a really good throw on one hop, so ... Napoli can be standing there and stay with the ball."
Napoli braced himself, but instead of digging his cleats into the ground, he let his own legs slide under him as Cabrera barreled him over. His astute move made Cabrera's attempt to run him over look rather wimpy — but it was really Napoli playing it smartly. He held on to the ball with no problem and Cabrera was out at the plate.
Napoli said he appreciated the throw:
"I know in that situation, there's probably going to be a collision at the plate or it's going to be a close play," Napoli said. "It was a crucial time of the game and Nellie gave me a good throw, he gave me enough time where I could brace and get low."
Cruz came in with six outfield assists, but none throwing home from right field. Maybe it's because other teams knew better than to try.
[Slideshow: Check out photos from Game 4 of the ALCS]