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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

This is heavy...

Allow me to take you back in time, Rangers fans. The date is July 28th, 2006. Your Texas Rangers were a mediocre (as they tended to be in the 2000s) 51-51 in the dead heat (literally) of the Texas summer. This night was a particularly long one at the Ballpark (as many in the 2000s were) as our old friend Vicente Padilla was pounded to the tune of 7 runs in 3.2 innings by the perennially terrible Kansas City Royals (35-66 at this juncture to be exact).


       
Didn't he have the swine flu at some point?


Well since we're already in our DeLeorean lets travel back farther in time..


               




...TO>>>>






...EARLIER in the day on July 28th, 2006. Haha...


             




As the trade deadline loomed young upstart G.M. Jon Daniels sent Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench and Francisco "CoCo" Cordero to the Milwaukee Brewers for minor leaguer Nelson Cruz, and "All-Star" (at the time I guess) left fielder Carlos Lee. 

          
He was a serviceable closer for us back then



Carlos Lee, here's a guy that would flirt with a .300 average every now and again with the White Sox and Brewers. Not to mention he was also good for 25-30 HRs a year in those days. All in all not a bad pickup for Daniels to stick in the middle of a lineup that already included GMJ, MY, Tex, Hank Blalock, and Kins (why weren't we better? haha). Numbers (but not team record)-wise it sort of reminds me of a certain recent pickup by the Rangers of another former Brewer. Hmm...






You might be asking yourself how and why a .500 team would make such a move for what appeared to be a pretty big bat at the deadline. Well if you're a loyal reader (please be haha) of this blog you're already familiar with Mr. Daniels' work, and if you're not a reader you may want to get caught up to speed here...


http://162plus.blogspot.com/2013/04/wwjdd-haha-getting-to-know-jon-daniels.html



Did I mention he hadn't even been on the job for a full year yet at this point?



Here's where the AL West stood on this particular day, as well, if you're wondering....


A's          53-49
Angels     52-49
Rangers   51-51
Mariners  49-52



So we had an outside shot with 60 games to go, ehh? <Shrugs> The Brewers (48-54 on the day in question) were sellers at the deadline that year and the Rangers were renting Carlos Lee, in effect, hoping to make a run at it. Hope being the operative word. All the more evident by our giving up of 3 big leaguers. Enter our old, old friend Doug Melvin, then and current, G.M. of the Brewers...






If you're wondering who Doug Melvin is or you just plain forgot, he oversaw the first real success in Rangers history (1994-2001). That is, if we define success with 3 Division titles (4 winning seasons), and 1 postseason victory. For a team that had previously accomplished NOTHING we had to (reluctantly?) rejoice at the time...














...I digress. Legend has it that Mr. Melvin saw promising prospect Nelson Cruz as expendable because he made up his mind that the kid could not hit a breaking ball. So, for all intents and purposes Mr. Cruz was a throw-in, insisted upon by the Rangers.



Flux Capacitor still working?


So, where we before we hit 88 miles per hour? Ahh yes. Padilla getting rocked. The Texas bullpen would surrender another 3 runs and we were quickly upon the bottom of the 9th. Leading off and pinch-hitting for Rod Barajas in the 9th hole in an 11-3 beating is...you guessed it...26-year old Nelson Ramon Cruz. 





He struck out looking in typical inauspicious fashion for a young buck (it might have even been on a breaker hey-o!). Interestingly he would go on to hit his first HR as a Ranger 3 nights later pinch hitting for...Carlos Lee. Since we have still our DeLorean lets flash forward to the end of the season. Well, the Rangers finished 3rd in the West at a sad 80-82 while the A's (who went all the way to the ALCS) and Angels finished 13 and 9 wins better than us, respectively...






In the couple of years that followed Nelly proved to be a "project" in every sense of the word. He looked more and more like a throw in as the years progressed. Somewhere Doug Melvin was smiling, especially since Carlos Lee only played a measly 59 games for the Rangers in 2006 and then agreed to a 6 year 100 million dollar contract with the Astros in November of the same year.


Alright then.



Cruz would go on to really struggle in 2008, failing to make the roster and later even being designated for assignment. Nevertheless, he cleared waivers and was retained by the Rangers. The following year he finally figured it all out, somehow, and found himself an All-Star replacement for the injured Torii Hunter. It really is the old tale of sticking with and forcing yourself to believe in a ballplayer and allowing him to believe in himself. Suddenly Nelly was in the HR Derby and in the finals, no less. He would lose the Derby to a big time slugger from the same team he had been traded from a mere 3 years prior...




I remember telling my oldest brother in 2006 to remember this kid's name because he was going to be a somebody, someday and all of sudden here he was at the HR derby. My brother, of course, had a different kind of vested interest in his eventual success altogether though. My oldest brother's name is Cruz Noriega. He always used to say, "I don't care what he does as long as he's on the team so I can buy a jersey with my name on it." Haha. So, that's pretty cool. Pretty sure he has every iteration of a Cruz jersey and/or jersey tee you can think of now. Why isn't Leo a more common last name??



That's my dawg!

Anyway, Cruz (the ballplayer haha) would have his greatest season ever to date in 2009, playing in excess of 100 major league games for the first time ever while smacking 33 homers. He was a huge contributor to a pennant winning team in 2010 hitting over .300 with 6 HRs that postseason, but it really was not until 2011 that the baseball world outside of Texas would come to know the name well.




In the 2011 ALCS he would hit an insane 6 HRs with 13 RBIs which were both postseason records. He hit a walk-off grand slam in game 2 of that series; the first player to ever do so in a postseason series. He was the first player to hit multiple extra inning HRs in the same postseason series and so on and so on. Unreal. Sufficed to say he was the MVP of said series (you already knew that).





Had to get a good shot of this AL Champs shirt. It's beyond cool. I hope you own one. Haha... 



This was postseason dominance reminiscent (to Rangers fans, okay maybe just me haha) of Juan Gonzalez in the 1996 ALDS.

5 HRs in 4 games.


The stage was set. It was game 6 of the World Series. What started out as one of the sloppiest World Series games you would ever see turned out to be a classic. The Rangers were up 3-2 in the series. Cruz hits a solo HR in the top of the 7th (after Adrian Beltre had broken the tie with a HR of his own) to put us up 6-4. It was also his 8th HR of the postseason which tied the record for most HRs in a postseason. We would go on to take a 7-5 lead (behind our great bullpen) into the bottom of the 9th. Our closer Neftali Feliz is on the mound. Rangers fans everywhere are rejoicing. We can smell the championship...




Then comes the moment everyone remembers. The count is 1-2. The Rangers are ONE strike away from winning the World Series. David Freese proceeds to hit a deep pop-up to Cruz in right and the game appears to be over until...











Who jinxed it? Was it FOX4? Was it someone you know? Was it you? Haha...

Yup, this happened.


Well, I have seen this 'catch' attempt a million times. I have thought about it for a million hours. I really have no explanation. Who does? It was just one of those crazy fluke occurrences in baseball which we love AND hate to see depending on what side of the outcome you're on. The game, however, was not technically lost on this play per se as we were headed the 10th. Josh Hamilton was all set up to be the World Series hero (and save Nelly from goat status) with his 2 run shot in the top of the 10th. The Rangers, as you know, were a strike away AGAIN and would go on to lose the game in the 11th AND lose game 7, yet Cruz's blunder is all we remember.


The really unnerving thing about Cruz is that he'll give you the occasional insane highlight catch. Not always, but I'm talking sliding catches, diving catches, misplayed catches where has to readjust and EVERY SINGLE TIME I saw one I would think about game 6 and wonder how much better my life would be right now. Haha. I googled "Nelson Cruz scouting report" just for the hell of it and here's what I found...


Assets:A bona fide top-tier power hitter with good size, a powerful swing and nice follow through, he also can run a little. Has the arm to play right field, but can also play left field.
Flaws:Is somewhat injury-prone, especially his legs/groins. Takes a huge cut and can be all-or-nothing at the plate (hitting a homer or striking out), so he'd benefit by shortening his swing at times.
Career Potential:Quality veteran slugging outfielder.

Describes Cruz to the letter, no?




Well after another failed playoff run in 2012 and Nelly's Biogenesis scandal in 2013, which cost him 50 games of playing time, and the Rangers missing the playoffs in 2013; here he was approaching free agency. Which brings us to the present. Back to the future you might even say. Haha...






In the final analysis here's a player that hit an average of 27 HRs and 80 or so RBIs over the last 5 years for the Rangers. That really sounds like a player you would take on your team. He rejected a 14.1 million dollar qualifying offer from the Rangers, because (I suppose) he thought at 33 years old he could get 4 or 5 years in big money from some club. Interest began to wane and I really began to think about how truly far apart negotiations were between him, the Rangers, Mariners, Orioles and whatever other teams were purportedly involved. He finally settled on an 8 million dollar deal from the O's...





Baltimore now surrenders its second-round pick (55th overall) in June's draft to the Rangers. Baltimore is a haven for former Rangers so for a landing spot we can't say it's a surprise. Here's a roster that includes 4 former Rangers including this guy...

He was Crush in name only with us.


Not to mention Buck Showalter, but for Nelly to say that it's the 'right fit' and 'it was there since the beginning' and it was his 'goal', I'm gonna have to say to him...





I really just firmly believe he just plain did NOT have any plans of coming back the second the Rangers decided they wouldn't commit multiple years to bring him back. What did the Rangers know that we don't? Hell, what do the Orioles know that we don't? Was it an issue of playing time? If you pencil Cruz into our lineup apropos as DH we look unbeatable on paper, I say...




So how will you remember Nelson Cruz now that he's no longer a Ranger? As a flippin' hot dog? Haha...




Is he our Bill Buckner?






Should we even really blame Cruz for the heartbreak of 2011, though? What about the double to Pujols and 2-out walk to Berkman that Feliz gave up before Freese's pop up? Despite this, should Wash have sent out Feliz in the bottom of the 10th instead of Darren Oliver? He couldn't get an out to save his life that night. When it was all said and done we left the game in the hands of Scott Feldman and Mark Lowe, for the love of god. There was still a game 7 to be played after all...




Either way, Buckner's gaffe lost game 6 of the '86 World Series for the Red Sox which they would eventually lose in 7 games as well. Cruz's catch would have WON the World Series. Even so, we never spewed the kind of venom at Nelly that Red Sox fans did at Buckner...


But if I had to. Haha...

Those fans are irrational savages though. We already knew that. They forgot all about Buckner and even forgave the poor guy when they raised banners in 2004 and 2007. Oh they won it in 2013 too, by the way. Then you start thinking about what an 86 year drought between World Series Championships might do to a fan base and you understand a *little bit*, but it's difficult to feel sorry for a fan base that has won 3 Championships in the last 10 years (5 total). Then, you think about real World Series droughts and you think about the Cubs and their 100+ years of misery and how they somehow blame billy goats and this poor guy...


Watch "Catching Hell" like now if you haven't already...


Even they can at least say they have 2 championships. Their drought is getting ready to outlast Hill Valley next year though...






So what about us, Ranger fans? We haven't even been around for 50 years. How long is our drought going to be after being soooo close? When you think about how truly to difficult it is to win a World Series and how close we were you want to just give up altogether...









ALLL of that having being said I like our chances this year. I like what we have done and I like where we're going. I just hope it's the road to the World Series...















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