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In a bounce, the course of Game 5 changed direction with the ball.
The Detroit Tigers faced elimination and prevailed, living to play another day.
A few inches this way or that, and who knows?
Miguel Cabrera’s RBI double deflected off third base to spark a rally in the sixth inning, and Delmon Young hit a two-run homer to cap the four-run burst that propelled the Tigers to a 7-5 win over the Texas Rangers on Thursday.
With Nelson Cruz showing no signs of slowing down, even against Detroit ace Justin Verlander, the Tigers needed all the runs they could get.
Cruz hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning, his record-setting fifth blast of the series, to cut the Detroit lead to three runs and knock Verlander out of the game.
But Phil Coke saved the game out of a short Detroit bullpen, getting the last five outs and sending the teams back to Texas for Game 6 on Saturday. Coke gave up a run in the ninth, then stranded two runners on base to escape.
The Rangers, ahead 3-2 in the series, will have as many as two more chances to become just the fifth franchise since 1969 to win consecutive American League pennants.
Young hit two home runs off Rangers starter C.J. Wilson, while Alex Avila and Ryan Raburn also homered for the AL Central champions.
Cruz continued his breakout performance, setting a league championship series record with his fifth home run and upping his RBI total to 11. Josh Hamilton drove in the other two runs for the AL West champs.
Verlander (2-1) threw 133 pitches, 94 for strikes, and gave up four runs on eight hits in 7 1/3 innings. He struck out eight, walked three and was good enough to play stopper.
Wilson (0-2) allowed six runs on eight hits and two walks, striking out five in six innings.
Before the Tigers took the lead for good, Verlander had to wiggle out of a jam. He did it by getting an inning-ending double play in the top of the sixth after Mike Napoli and David Murphy had dropped well-placed hits into the outfield.
Napoli’s leadoff single hit off Austin Jackson’s glove as he dove for it in center field, while Murphy knocked a ball into the right-center field gap for a one-out double.
But after Mitch Moreland walked to load the bases, Ian Kinsler grounded sharply to third baseman Brandon Inge, who stepped on the bag to start the double play.
After Raburn singled to lead off the bottom of the inning, Cabrera knocked a 1-1 fastball down the line that bounced once, then came down on the outside corner of third base closest to home plate.
The ball skipped over Adrian Beltre, a capable fielder, and into left field to score Raburn from first base and give the Tigers a 3-2 lead.
“I have that bag in my office right now,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. “And that will be in my memorabilia room at some point in my life. I can promise you.”
If the ball hadn’t hit the bag, the Rangers could have turned a difficult but potential double play to clear the bases.
Instead, Victor Martinez followed with a triple to deep right field — Cruz dove and missed it — and Young hit his second homer off Wilson, a two-run blast to left field that made it 6-2.
It was the first time in postseason history that four players on a team hit for the cycle in succession in a game.
“They caught a break,” said Rangers manager Ron Washington. “That’s what I thought.”
Verlander, above 100 pitches already, set the Rangers down in order in the top of the seventh and Raburn hit a one-out solo homer in the bottom of the inning off Koji Uehara, who came in to replace Wilson.
Cruz, whose ALCS has included the first walkoff grand slam in postseason history among its many highlights, hammered Verlander’s last 100 mph fastball off the pole in left field to get the Rangers within 7-4.
Verlander admitted that he tried to sneak an 0-2 fastball past Cruz, then explained why the cameras caught him smiling when it hit the pole.
“That’s ‘It’s in the air. It’s please go foul, please go foul. I’m such an idiot, please go foul.’ It didn’t,” said Verlander. “That’s why you get the little smirk.”
Coke got the last two outs on seven pitches before facing trouble with two outs in the ninth on Hamilton’s double and Michael Young’s RBI single. He walked Beltre, then got Napoli to ground out.
With closer Jose Valverde and reliever Joaquin Benoit unavailable, Leyland said he wanted to get through the game with Verlander and Coke, which is what happened.
Earlier, the Rangers hit two doubles and took a 1-0 lead during an 18-pitch first inning for Verlander. Kinsler led off with a double, went to third on a ground out and scored on Hamilton’s sacrifice fly. Young doubled to left field, but was stranded at second base.
Wilson retired the first seven Tigers hitters in order before Avila went the other way with a first-pitch fastball for a solo homer to right in the third.
A similar blast gave Detroit the lead.
After Martinez grounded into a double play in the fourth, Young hit Wilson’s first-pitch fastball over the left-center field wall for a solo homer that made it 2-1.
“I’ve been able to get my timing back the last couple of games,” said Young, who was originally left off the ALCS roster with a strained oblique but was added to replace Magglio Ordonez (broken ankle) before Game 2. “This is my first game playing back-to-back, so I didn’t lose my rhythm.”
The Rangers came back to tie it after Kinsler walked with one out in the fifth, went to second on Elvis Andrus’ single and scored on Hamilton’s base hit into left-center field.
Outfielders Lance Berkman of the St. Louis Cardinals and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox are the recipients of the 2011 Comeback Player of the Year awards.
Berkman struggled in 2010 with Houston and the New York Yankees, batting a mere .248 with 14 homers and 58 runs batted in, then flourished in his first season with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The 35-year-old veteran batted .301 with 31 homers and 94 runs batted in this season. He tied for ninth in the National League in homers and tied for 11th in RBI, helping the Cardinals to the NL wild card berth.
Berkman was selected for his sixth career All-Star Game this past July and the 145 games he played were his most since appearing in 159 during the 2008 season.
Ellsbury played just 18 games in 2010 because of injuries, but is an MVP candidate this season after hitting .321 with 32 homers and 105 runs batted in. He added 119 runs scored with 39 stolen bases and led the majors with 364 total bases and 83 extra-base hits.
An All-Star for the first time this season, the Oregon native became the first Red Sox player with a 30-homer, 30-stolen base season. He finished third in the American League with 212 hits and was fifth in batting.
Ellsbury also became the fourth big league player to reach 200 hits, 100 RBI, 35 stolen bases and 30 home runs in a single season, joining Vladimir Guerrero (2002), Alfonso Soriano (2002) and Alex Rodriguez (1998).
The 30 club beat reporters from MLB.com selected the award winners.
Last year’s winners were Atlanta pitcher Tim Hudson and Minnesota pitcher Francisco Liriano.
Mike Napoli hit a game-winning RBI single in the top of the 11th and Nelson Cruz capped the frame with a three-run homer, as the Rangers defeated the Tigers, 7-3, to grab a decisive lead in this best- of-seven series.
Cruz continues to punish the Tigers, becoming the only player in postseason history to hit two extra inning home runs in the same series. He ended Game 2 in the 11th inning with the first walkoff grand slam in playoff history.
Josh Hamilton began the 11th with a double. With one down, Jose Valverde (0-1) intentionally walked Adrian Beltre before Napoli singled home Hamilton for a 4-3 advantage. Cruz followed with a three-run blast to cap the scoring, as the Rangers emphatically grabbed a 3-1 advantage in this American League championship series.
Brandon Inge hit a game-tying home run in the seventh inning for the Tigers, who got a two-run double from Miguel Cabrera.
Since 1985, the ALCS has produced three four-game sweeps. In the other 22 series, the winner of Game 4 has advanced to the World Series 17 times.
Detroit does have a measure of solace, however, as it sends 24-game winner Justin Verlander to the hill as the series shifts back to Arlington Thursday.
Cruz and Napoli not only stymied the Tigers with their bats, but also their arms. An inning after Inge’s home run, Texas manager Ron Washington ordered Mike Adams to intentionally walk Cabrera with one down. Victor Martinez, who strained his oblique on a home run swing in Game 3, followed with a single, moving Cabrera to third.
Delmon Young, also battling an oblique injury, lifted a fly ball to right, but Cruz made the catch and easily cut down the tagging Cabrera to end the inning.
In the 10th, Scott Feldman (1-0) hit Austin Jackson with one out, but Napoli threw out the speedster as he attempted to steal second.
The Rangers, who entered the game just 7-17 at Comerica Park under Washington, grabbed the lead off of Valverde a half-inning later and Neftali Feliz set Detroit down in order in the bottom of the frame to secure the win.
The Tigers lost the first two meetings of the series in Arlington, but earned a win on Tuesday behind trade deadline acquisition Doug Fister’s solid start.
Fister allowed just two runs in the Game 3 victory and Rick Porcello appeared poised to best his teammate Wednesday.
Cabrera gave the Tigers the lead with a two-out, two-run double in the third and Porcello deftly protected it through five frames, surrendering just two hits over that span. But he ran into trouble in the sixth.
David Murphy, who doubled in the third, led off with a single and scored on Ian Kinsler’s one-out double. Kinsler then stole third and Elvis Andrus followed with a game-tying base hit to shallow right.
Porcello induced Hamilton into a fly out, but then threw the ball away attempting to pick off Andrus, allowing him to advance. Michael Young capitalized, ripping a single to center for his first RBI of the postseason and a 3-2 Rangers lead.
An inning later, consecutive two-out singles by Murphy and Yorvit Torrealba placed runners at the corners and chased Porcello. Al Alburquerque walked Kinsler on four pitches to load the bases, but Andrus grounded out to escape.
Alburquerque’s contribution proved critical, as Inge turned on an 0-2 fastball from Alexi Ogando a half-inning later for a two-out, game-tying home run.
Ogando had relieved starter Matt Harrison to begin the sixth. Harrison appeared unaffected by the game’s 2:13 delay, allowing two runs on three hits and three walks while fanning three.
Staked with a four-run lead, Chris Carpenter and the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen shut down the Milwaukee Brewers to win Game 3 of the National League Championship Series, 4-3, at Busch Stadium.
The Cardinals batted around in a four-run first inning, though their NL Central rivals chipped away at the lead and pulled within a run when Mark Kotsay homered into the right-field bullpen leading off the third.
But Carpenter (2-0) allowed just one more hit in his five-inning start and a relief effort consisting of Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn, Marc Rzepczynski and Jason Motte combined for four perfect frames to take a 2-1 series lead.
Albert Pujols continued his torrid postseason by going 2-for-2 with two walks and a run-scoring double, while David Freese added to October heroics with three hits, including the deciding RBI double in the first.
Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo (1-1) was touched for four runs on eight hits and five walks while battling through five innings.
Milwaukee will look to even the series on Thursday when Randy Wolf takes the mound opposite Kyle Lohse.
Theo Epstein has reportedly reached an agreement to join the Chicago Cubs front office.
Epstein’s contract as Red Sox general manager and executive vice president runs through 2012, but WEEI radio in Boston reported Wednesday that a five- year deal worth $15 million had been reached. The report said the sides hadn’t decided what title Epstein will have.
ESPN also reported that Epstein and the Cubs agreed to a five-year deal.
The change would abruptly end Epstein’s remarkable run as Red Sox general manager.
In 2002, Epstein became the youngest GM in major league history when he took over the Red Sox at age 28. He assembled the 2004 squad noted for ending an 86-year championship drought in Boston and tacked on another World Series title three years later. He took on the additional role of executive vice president in 2006.
This past season the Red Sox fell apart down the stretch, finishing 7-20 in September to squander a nine-game lead in the AL wild card race to the Tampa Bay Rays. The collapse resulted in manager Terry Francona parting ways with the franchise shortly after the season.
The Cubs have not won a World Series title since 1908. They went 71-91 this past season, missing out on the postseason for the third straight year. General manager Jim Hendry was fired in mid-August, and Randy Bush was promoted from assistant to interim GM.
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