Cruz hit a first-pitch knuckleball high and deep over the left-field fence off Tim Wakefield to lead off the 11th inning, giving the Rangers a 10-9 victory over the Red Sox at the Ballpark in Arlington on Friday night.
The Rangers, playing from a sellout crowd of 47,195 fans, rallied from being down 8-2 after 3 1/2 innings to earn their eighth walk-off victory of the season and second of this homestand.
"It was a good game, a very good game, a fun game," Hamilton said. "Those type of games are why you play the game: battling back and forth and coming out ahead."
The Rangers now lead the Angels by 8 1/2 games and the Athletics by nine games in the American League West with 48 games left to play.
"Tonight was a total team effort," manager Ron Washington said. "It took everybody. We fell behind 8-2 and those guys didn't quit. They kept fighting and took whatever they could get. Anybody wonders what kind of hear those guys have in the clubhouse, it showed tonight."
Hamilton's night only included four hits, including a home run, four runs, a stolen base and an outstanding leaping catch while crashing into the center-field fence to grab Jed Lowrie's long drive in the sixth inning.
"He's playing like a 12-year-old boy," third baseman Michael Young said. "That was the total package on display tonight. That was fun to watch."
Two of Hamilton's four runs were scored only because of his excellent speed. He scored from third on David Murphy's shallow sacrifice in the seventh and from second base on Vladimir Guerrero's infield single in the eighth. That was the tying run.
"That's what he does: a five-tool guy," Washington said. "A five-tool guy -- run, throw, field, hit and hit with power -- that's what Josh does. He can do it all."
The Rangers were put in an early hole because starter Tommy Hunter couldn't get through the fourth inning. He started off fine on a night when the game-time temperature was 99 degrees but then got hit hard by a bad stomach bug and it zapped his strength.
"I don't know. ... I just got sick," Hunter said. "I had no idea, but it was bad. I don't know what happened."
He was given a 2-0 lead early but allowed four solo home runs, including three in a row to start the fourth. That gave the Red Sox a 4-2 lead and then Scott Feldman replaced him on the mound.
"[Hunter] just kept getting the ball up," Washington said. "We knew it wasn't right when they went back-to-back-to-back."
The Red Sox, taking advantage of a key error by second baseman Andres Blanco, added four more runs off Feldman that inning to give them an 8-2 lead.
"We really didn't feel anything," Hamilton said. "Obviously we were not going to give up. Skip said just to pick and peck, get one run here and one run there. You don't have to get it all at once."
The Rangers started cutting into that lead in the bottom of the inning against Red Sox starter Josh Beckett. Murphy led off with a double to left, and with one out, Mitch Moreland went deep to right-center for his first Major League home run.
That made it 8-4 and the Rangers scored two more in the fifth on back-to-back home runs by Young and Hamilton. It's the fifth time Rangers hitters have hit back-to-back home runs this season, and Hamilton has been involved in all five.
"It's a shame I couldn't go out and do better than I did in the fourth and fifth innings," Beckett said. "Wakefield should have never been in that situation at all if I had done my job."
J.D. Drew hit his second home of the night in the seventh inning, this one coming off Texas reliever Darren Oliver that gave the Red Sox a 9-6 lead. But the Rangers came back with two more in the bottom of the inning against Red Sox reliever Felix Doubront. One scored on Murphy's sacrifice fly and Bengie Molina brought home the second run with a two-out double.
The Rangers finally tied it up in the eighth after Hamilton doubled with two outs against reliever Daniel Bard. Guerrero followed with a grounder up the middle that Lowrie fielded behind second base and threw off-balance to first.
But his throw was off the bag to the inside, Guerrero slid in safely and Hamilton kept on coming at the urging of third-base coach Dave Anderson, scoring from second base on the play.
"Dave did a great job sending me," Hamilton said.
That tied it up and the Rangers' bullpen kept it that way. The combination of Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz and Darren O'Day combined to retire the last 11 Red Sox hitters.
That left the Rangers needing just one run, and they got it after Wakefield took over for Jonathan Papelbon in the 11th. Wakefield is the Red Sox's long reliever, and he was the last pitcher out of the bullpen Friday night.
"Wake was going to pitch until we won or lost," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "The good news is he won't be tired."
That's because Cruz jumped on the first pitch and hit his 16th home run of the season to bring it all to an end. It was the ninth home run hit in the game.
"I was just battling and looking for a good pitch high," Cruz said. "I was looking for the first pitch, because he has a history of throwing the first pitch for a strike. It was great to come back and win that game. Everybody contributed, especially Josh. What else can you say about him?"
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.