DETROIT (AP) – Nelson Cruz made the throw. Mike Napoli endured the collision.
Then this Texas tag team put the game away with their bats.
Cruz made a rocket throw to Napoli at the plate to keep the score tied, then hit a crushing three-run homer in the 11th inning off Jose Valverde that helped send the Rangers over the Detroit Tigers 7-3 Wednesday night for a 3-1 lead in the AL championship series.
Napoli put Texas ahead with an RBI single earlier in the 11th, and Cruz — whose grand slam in the 11th inning won Game 2 — once again starred for the Rangers in a game delayed at the start for more than two hours by rain.
With Detroit runners at the corners in the eighth and the score 3-all, Cruz caught Delmon Young’s flyball to right field and made a strong peg to Napoli to nail Miguel Cabrera. The Detroit slugger bowled over Napoli, but the catcher held on to the ball and Cabrera never touched the plate.
Texas tries for its second consecutive AL pennant on Thursday, sending C.J. Wilson to the mound to face Detroit ace Justin Verlander.
“It’s been a great series. If you don’t like baseball, you probably like it now watching these games,” Napoli said. “We expected a tough series, and we’ve been able to come out on top. And it’s been fun.”
Napoli blooped a go-ahead single in the 11th and Cruz soon added his fourth home run of the ALCS. Cruz became the first player in major league history to hit a pair of extra-inning homers in the same postseason series.
Brandon Inge hit a solo home run in the Detroit seventh that tied it. The Tigers wasted a terrific chance an inning later following some risky Texas strategy.
With one out and nobody on, the Rangers intentionally walked Cabrera, practically daring the rest of the struggling Detroit lineup to beat them. The AL batting champion had hit a two-run double earlier in the game.
“First time, shame on you, next time, shame on me,” Washington said.
Victor Martinez, who hurt his ribcage on a home run swing in Game 3, followed with a single to right and Cabrera lumbered around to third.
Young, another Tigers starter who has been banged up lately, managed to lift the ball to medium right. Cruz caught it and made a perfect, one-hop throw to the plate that beat Cabrera by several feet.
“We throw to the bases every day,” Cruz said. “We take flyballs every day, make sure we know the ballpark, we know any situation we can be involved in during the game. When you prepare, everything comes more easy.”
Austin Jackson was hit by a pitch with one out in the 10th, but Napoli threw him out trying to steal second, and reliever Scott Feldman made it through the inning without further trouble. The out on the bases may have cost Cabrera a chance to bat with a runner on. He was on deck when the inning ended.
“I’m glad I can do it on the defensive side,” said Napoli, who was traded from the Los Angeles Angels to Toronto and then to Texas in the offseason. “I kind of got labeled as not too good behind the plate, and I’m glad I can show it and be myself behind the plate and just help us win.”
Feldman got the win and Texas closer Neftali Feliz worked the 11th.
Cruz tried to contribute with his legs, too. He was on first base with two outs in the ninth and tried to steal second while Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit was holding the ball. The pitcher stepped and threw to second to retire Cruz.
Valverde had already pitched a perfect 10th, but he couldn’t hold off Texas for another inning. Cruz was mobbed by teammates at the Texas dugout after his homer, and Detroit fans began heading for the exits. Some of those that remained began applauding Valverde, who hasn’t blown a save all year but was unable to keep this game going for another inning.
“We were down two games to one. You have to give it your best shot,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “He and Benoit are both running on fumes and heart right now, to be honest with you.”
The teams waited through a rain delay of 2 hours, 13 minutes before the first pitch. The game was supposed to begin at 4:19 p.m. EDT, but the rain didn’t let up until around 5:30. Fans then began filling the seats closest to the field and, about 20 minutes later, the grounds crew came out to remove the tarp.
A misty rain began falling again around the end of the second inning, and umbrellas started popping up all over the ballpark. Water would kick up as the ball hopped along the grass, but the rain wasn’t a factor in the late innings.
Cabrera hit his two-run double in the third, but Texas scored three times in the sixth.
Inge tied it with a stunning homer off Alexi Ogando in the seventh. The Detroit third baseman hit .170 against right-handers during the regular season with no homers in 171 at-bats, but he lifted a high drive to left field that seemed to stay in the air forever before clearing the fence to make it 3-all.
Rangers relievers allowed only one run in 15 innings through the first three games of the ALCS — and they allowed only one in Game 4.
Detroit’s Rick Porcello allowed three runs — two earned — and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings. He struck out six with no walks.
Matt Harrison allowed two runs and three hits in five innings for Texas.
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