Coming off another extra-inning victory, the Rangers can clinch the AL pennant Thursday against the Detroit Tigers, who will be without their top two relievers in Game 5 of the ALCS at Comerica Park.
After allowing Detroit to get back in the series with a 5-2 loss in Game 3 on Tuesday, Texas posted its second 11-inning victory of the ALCS, 7-3 on Wednesday to take a 3-1 lead in the series. That contest was delayed 2 hours and 13 minutes because of rain.
“If you don’t like baseball, you probably like it now watching these games,” said Rangers catcher Mike Napoli(notes), who drove home the go-ahead run in the 11th. “We expected a tough series, and we’ve been able to come out on top. And it’s been fun.”
Following Napoli’s tiebreaking single, Nelson Cruz(notes) hit his second 11th-inning homer of the series - a three-run shot to help put the Rangers one win away from becoming the first AL team to reach the World Series in consecutive seasons since the New York Yankees made four straight trips from 1998-2001.
“Real good team,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of the Rangers. “And so far they’ve gotten the best of (us). Obviously, we’ve got to win (Thursday).”
Cruz, who has hit all four of Texas’ ALCS home runs, connected for the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history in the Rangers’ 7-3, 11-inning victory in Game 2. The first player in major league history to hit two extra-inning home runs in the same postseason series, Cruz is 5 for 14 with nine RBIs in the ALCS after going 1 for 15 versus Tampa Bay in the division series.
“He’s capable of doing exactly what he’s doing,” Texas manager Ron Washington said of Cruz. “I’m just happy that we as the Texas Rangers are reaping the benefit of it.”
Cruz homered off Verlander in Texas’ 3-2 win in Game 1 for only his second hit in 11 career at-bats against the likely AL Cy Young Award winner.
Though Verlander won 24 games and led the AL with a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, he is 1-1 with a 5.54 ERA in three postseason starts.
“I have to go out there and pitch better than I have and really establish a rhythm from the get-go and maintain my feel throughout the game,” he said.
The right-hander has struggled to find a solid rhythm because two of his three playoff starts have been interrupted by rain, including Game 1 on Saturday when he allowed three runs in four innings.
Despite rain again being forecast for Thursday, Verlander is not worried about the weather or his subpar performance thus far in the postseason.
“I feel good,” Verlander said. “It’s just a matter of getting my mechanics right. I’ve done everything I can possibly do to get myself prepared. Now it’s a matter of going out there and doing it.”
The Tigers need their ace to pitch deep into the game after Leyland’s decision to hold out Jose Valverde(notes) and Joaquin Benoit(notes) on Thursday. Valverde, the closer, has pitched 4 1-3 innings in the last three days after taking the loss Wednesday, while Benoit has thrown four innings in the last three days.
Texas’s C.J. Wilson(notes) (0-1, 7.45) allowed six hits and walked five but yielded just two runs in 4 2-3 innings against Verlander in Game 1. The left-hander returned after the first of two rain delays in that contest and was not very sharp, but he refused to worry about the potential for rain interrupting this outing.
“There’s no point of talking about it before it happens,” Wilson said. “Nothing is regular at this point. There’s no regular starts in the postseason. There’s no regular routine.”
Miguel Cabrera, 2 for 6 with a double versus Wilson, drove in two runs Wednesday for the Tigers, who managed five hits one night after pounding out a postseason-high 11 in their Game 3 victory.
Cabrera is 5 for 14 with three doubles, a home run and four RBIs in the series.