CLEVELAND -- Nelson Cruz's magical ride continued on a Monday afternoon at Progressive Field, right before Neftali Feliz stepped into his new role as the Rangers' closer, wielding his 100-plus mph fastball. Who knows how long either will last, but it proved to be a powerful 10th-inning combination on Monday in ruining the Indians' home opener. Cruz hit a two-run home run in the top of the inning and then Feliz dispatched the Indians in order in the bottom half to give the Rangers a 4-2 victory in their first road game of the season.More
"We battled all day long and ended up getting the big hit in the end," Rangers manager Ron Washington said after his team won for the third time in four games. This is also the first time the Rangers have been 4-3 after seven games since 2004. Josh Hamilton led off the 10th with a single against Indians reliever Jamey Wright and, after Vladimir Guerrero flied out, he stole second. That proved valiant but unnecessary. Cruz jumped on a 1-0 low slider, crushing it high and deep over the left-field wall for the game-winning shot. "He's winning games for us," Hamilton said. "Obviously Cruzie is feeling good. Vlad's feeling good, too. My job is just to get on base. ... those are the guys you want up there right now. They're good." Cruz, who had a triple earlier in the game, is now hitting .458 with a 1.250 slugging percentage after seven games. He leads the American League with five home runs and seven RBIs and has a seven-game hitting streak to start the season. The club record for the longest hitting streak to begin the season is 13, set by Al Oliver in 1979. "Last year I started really well too," Cruz said. "You've got to make adjustments because the pitchers are going to make adjustments. Like today. I got a lot of sliders. I guess the scouting reports say I've been hitting fastballs because today I got a lot of sliders." Fastballs, sliders ... it seems like Cruz is hitting just about everything thrown to him lately. "He's got as much sock in his bat as anybody," Wright said "I didn't think the location was that bad. He golfed it out. One bad pitch lost the game for us." This home run made a winner out of Frank Francisco, the Rangers' closer-in-exile who was called upon in the ninth inning with the score 2-2. Washington said before the game he wanted to limit Francisco to the sixth or seventh inning while he put his game back together. But Washington felt he had no choice with this game tied and possibly headed for extra innings. Shortstop Elvis Andrus made a fabulous leaping catch on Matt LaPorte's sizzling line drive to start the inning and Francisco, who blew two saves last week in Arlington, ended up retiring the side in order. That put him in position to be the winning pitcher when Cruz went deep in the 10th, leaving Francisco with a 2-2 record after seven games. He was also the winning pitcher in the Rangers' home opener and is the first pitcher in club history to have four decisions in the club's first seven games. "It was nice to see Frankie go out there with nice velocity and get those three outs," Washington said. The Rangers still needed three more and that's Feliz's job for the time being. Washington suggested before the game that Francisco may end up being back as the closer and he might not. Much depends on Feliz and he was pretty impressive on Monday afternoon. He did have two saves last year, but one was in a 7-2 game and the final score in the other was 5-1. This was his first time out in the actual closer's role: last inning, tight game, last pitcher standing, no safety net behind you. "I felt comfortable out there," Feliz said. "I felt 100 percent. I went with the mentality of attacking hitters and getting after it. I didn't get nervous. I have been in those situations before, not closing out the game, but in a tie game. You go with the same mentality of attacking the hitter." Certainly it helps if the attack is led by a fastball that hit as high as 102 mph. With an occasional breaking ball or changeup mixed in, Feliz struck out Mike Redmond and dispatched Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Brantley on grounders to end the game. "He went out there under control," Washington said. "I didn't see any nervousness. I saw a guy doing what he does best and that's throw the baseball. He got the three outs we needed."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less