New Mr. October

It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue to call somebody Mr. Eleventh Inning, so I doubt if that will catch on as a new nickname for Nelson Cruz.

So we’re stuck with Mr. October. And it definitely fits. Reggie Who?

Cruz is probably more popular in Texas right now than Halloween and there are probably more baseball fans clicking instant replays of his home runs going “Sweet!” than there will be kids at the end of the month when they score those miniature Three Mustketeers bars.

The Rangers’ outfielder has blasted Detroit Tigers pitching for a walk-off 11th-inning grand slam, a three-run 11th-inning homer, and a symbolic, two-run job off of Detroit ace Justin Verlander in the 8th inning Thursday night. Now that’s taking care of business in the American League Championship Series. In fact, that’s taking care of business for all-time’s sake. As for that bonus dinger off Verlander when the game was pretty much decided, Cruz said he wanted to let Detroit know that he and the Rangers were still around. Did he think the Tigers hadn’t noticed?

Nelson has been cruisin’ in a way that few batters in history have. It has reached the point where the anticipation level of what he might do each time he steps into the batter’s box harkens back to the Reggie Jackson playoff era, the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home-run chase of 1998, or the Barry Bonds record-breaking 2001 season of 73 homers. There were no bathroom 0r hot dog breaks when those guys came to the plate. Fans couldn’t wait to see if the big dudes were going to powder the ball over some distant wall.

This is Cruz’s October. He is in the zone at the right time. While a respected hitter, he doesn’t have the track record of leaving fans waiting to exhale or of killing pitchers as if they are clay pigeons. But here is is, five games into a potentially seven-game series, with five homers. Jackson, who had a candy bar named after him, Ken Griffey Jr. Juan Gonzalez, and Chase Utley, representing both leagues, are the others who have managed five dongs in a single post-season series.

Reggie swatted three homers in a single World Series game in 1977. During that Yankees Series championship over the Dodgers, Jackson hit a home run in his last at-bat in Game Five and three home runs in Game Six–all on the first pitch. So there remains something for Cruz to aspire to.

It’s not as if Cruz is some unknown rookie brought up directly from Iowa City or Lansing. He is 31 years old and has been in the majors since 2004. This season he banged 29 regular-season homers with 87 RBIs in 124 games. A native of Monte Cristi in the Dominican Republic, he was signed by the New York Mets and made his major-league debut with the Milwaukee Brewers. All but eight games of his career, however, have been in a Rangers uniform.

Would he have been the guy in the Texas lineup voted most likely to go berserk at the plate in October? Probably not. A poll before the start of play would have annointed Josh Hamilton, if anyone.

Heck, I was watching the Tigers’ 7-5 victory in a restaurant when Cruz ripped his most recent tape-measure job and the guy behind the bar told a friend he didn’t know anyone playing for Texas. Well, he should know Cruz’ name by now. And if he doesn’t, it’s not too late to learn. Cruz might well have another homer or two ready to spring off his big bat before this series is over.

Tags: Barry Bonds Chase Utley Detroit Tigers Josh Hamilton Juan Gonzalez Justin Verlander Ken Griffey Jr. Mark McGwire Nelson Cruz Reggie Jackson Sammy Sosa Texas Rangers

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