By Stephen Hawkins
AP Sports Writer
ARLINGTON — Nelson Cruz and the Texas Rangers are headed to their second straight World Series, finishing off the Detroit Tigers with a huge offensive burst to become the American League’s first repeat champion in a decade.
Cruz set a postseason record with his sixth home run of the series, Michael Young hit a pair of two-run doubles in a nine-run third inning, and the Rangers romped to a 15-5 win Saturday night that won the AL pennant in six games.
“It’s very sweet,” said Young, the Rangers’ longest-tenured player, in his 11th season. “We’re happy we’re going to the World Series right now. But we have a lot of work to do. Happy, but not satisfied.”
They’ll open the World Series on Wednesday night at St. Louis or Milwaukee, seeking the first title in the history of a franchise that started play in 1961.
Power man: Nelson Cruz
By Jaime Aron
Move over, Reggie, Babe and all those other October sluggers. Nobody has ever had a postseason power surge like Nelson Cruz just did in the AL championship series.
With a two-run homer Saturday night, Cruz upped his ALCS totals to six homers and 13 RBIs — both major league records for a postseason series. The numbers will hold, too, because his Texas Rangers beat the Detroit Tigers 15-5 in Game 6 to advance to the World Series for the second straight year.
“When the team needed me, I delivered,” Cruz said during the on-field ceremony after receiving his MVP trophy. “It was amazing.”
Cruz was an easy choice for series MVP. He went 8 for 22 (.364), with every hit going for extra bases; his two non-homers were doubles. Only once has anyone had more extra-base hits in a postseason series; Hideki Matsui had nine for the Yankees when they lost the 2004 ALCS to Boston.
Consider his other Cruz-ian feats this round:
— He hit the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history.
— He became the first player with extra-inning homers in two games of one series.
— He became the franchise’s career postseason home run king.
“Amazing hitter,” said teammate Mike Napoli, who bats in front of Cruz. “A lot of power. When he gets it going, it’s pretty impressive.”
On Saturday night, the Rangers already were well on their way to victory when Cruz sent another high-arching shot over the left-field wall in the seventh inning. A stadium filled with fans eager to celebrate the pennant chanted “Cruuuuuuz” long and loud, and he stepped out of the dugout for a quick salute.
When Michael Young caught the final out at first base, Cruz was running toward the play and began smiling. He then dropped to a knee and said a quick prayer, slapped the ground and charged into the pileup near the mound.
During the ceremony, there were more roars of “Cruuuuuuz” whenever his name was mentioned and of course when he received the hardware.
“Nellie worked hard all year,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. “Coming down the stretch, he didn’t really have a whole lot of at-bats. He kept battling, his teammates supported him and in the end it all came together.”
Cruz homered in every game the Rangers won — and in every game, period, except the third. He also helped Texas win Game 4 by throwing out a runner at the plate in the eighth inning of a tie game.
Cruz came through in the opener, and never stopped, with nearly every long drive coming at a great time.
His solo shot in Game 1 put Texas up 3-0 on the way to a 3-2 victory. He tied Game 2 with a solo homer in the seventh inning, got hit in the wrist by a pitch in the ninth, then hit the grand slam in the 11th. He hit a three-run homer in the 11th inning of Game 4 and ripped another on a 100 mph heater from Justin Verlander in Game 5, turning what seemed like a lost cause into a 7-5 game that ended with the potential go-ahead run at the plate.
Cruz showed he could throw with power, too, in Game 4.
Detroit had the bases loaded and one out when Cruz caught a fly ball and threw a strike to catcher Mike Napoli. The ball arrived in plenty of time for Napoli to brace himself for a collision with Miguel Cabrera for the inning-ending out. Cruz showed great fundamentals with the way he approached the ball, ready to step into his rifle throw.
Cruz hit .318 with 22 homers last year, then whacked six more in the postseason. He saw Josh Hamilton carry the Rangers in the ALCS last year, and now has joined him in October lore.
Cruz had 13 RBIs in the series, another postseason record, and was selected MVP.
“He was unbelievable,” teammate Adrian Beltre said. “Every moment we needed him, he came through.”
Young, who also homered, had five RBIs in the finale, asked for a trade last winter but wound up staying and helped make sure the World Series will again be deep in the heart of Texas. Even the loss of Cliff Lee, who became a free agent and signed with Philadelphia, didn’t prevent a Rangers repeat.
Young caught Brandon Inge’s game-ending popout in short right field and pumped a right hand into the air signaling “No. 1” while fireworks and confetti filled the sky, then ran toward the middle of the field to celebrate with his teammates.
Cruz threw both hands in the air and briefly knelt to a knee in the outfield before running to the infield for the ginger ale-spraying celebration to come while a banner was unfurled high over center field declaring the Rangers 2011 AL champions
With former President George W. Bush seated in the front row alongside Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, part of the ownership group that took over the team last year, Rangers manager Ron Washington was at the edge of the dugout wildly waving his arms and shouting encouragement to his players as the big inning unfolded.
All Tigers manager Jim Leyland could do was take off his cap and scratch his head.
A franchise that began as the expansion Washington Senators and moved to Texas in 1972 had failed to reach the World Series in its first 49 seasons. Then the Rangers won their first AL pennant last year only to lose the Series to the San Francisco Giants in five games.
“As soon as the season began, we were hungry, we were hungry to get back,” Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus said.
Texas overcame a 2-0 deficit by sending 14 batters to the plate against Detroit starter Max Scherzer (0-1) and three relievers in the highest-scoring postseason inning since 2002.
Alexi Ogando (2-0) pitched two scoreless innings for his second win in the series as the Rangers became the AL’s first consecutive pennant winner since the New York Yankees won four in a row from 1998-01.
While Young became only the fourth player in postseason history with two extra-base hits in the same inning — first a tying double into the left-field corner and then one down the right field line for a 9-2 lead — every batter in the Texas lineup reached base at least once before the third out of the third. By the time all the fireworks was over, the Rangers scored the most runs ever in a postseason game against the Tigers and the most in any postseason contest since the Yankees routed Boston 19-8 in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS.
Also among the sellout crowd of 51,508 was Dirk Nowitzki, MVP of the NBA finals won by the Dallas Mavericks in June.
Now the Rangers get another chance to bring another championship to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and go a step further than last season.
Young, in his 11th season in Texas, had played in 1,508 career regular season games before finally getting into the playoffs last year. He added a huge exclamation point to his already big night when he led off the seventh with a 416-foot homer to straightaway center field.
His five RBIs matched the Rangers postseason record set by Cruz in Game 2.
Last winter, Young had requested a trade after the Rangers signed Beltre and acquired Mike Napoli, moves that led to Young becoming primarily a designated hitter and first baseman, a position he had never played. He had already been a starting second baseman and an All-Star at shortstop and third base.
Young’s two two-run doubles came in the highest-scoring inning in a postseason game since the Angels matched a playoff record with 10 runs in the seventh inning of Game 5 during the 2002 ALCS against Minnesota.
Texas’ big inning started when Andrus drew a one-out walk and Josh Hamilton blooped an opposite-field single to left. After Young tied it, Beltre hit a go-ahead single under the leg of Scherzer, who was gone after consecutive walks to Mike Napoli and Cruz.
Cruz fought back from an 0-2 count for his walk. On a checked swing on a 2-2 pitch, Scherzer and Leyland both reacted in disbelief when first base umpire Tim Welke signaled no swing. When the next pitch was ball four, Cruz flipped his bat away and quickly clapped his hands.
David Murphy hit a two-run single off Daniel Schlereth, facing his only batter in his only appearance of the series. Game 4 starter Rick Porcello took over and pinch-hitter Craig Gentry reached on a fielder’s choice as Murphy beat the throw to second. Ian Kinsler’s two-run single made it 7-2, and Young’s second double boosted the margin to 9-2.
When Ryan Perry finally induced Beltre to hit an inning-ending flyout, fans roared in anticipation of a World Series berth that wouldn’t be official for five more innings. Most wildly waved white rally towels, and another behind the Rangers dugout swayed a Texas state flag back-and-forth high in the air.
Detroit had already avoided elimination twice this postseason, winning Game 5 of the AL division series at Yankee Stadium and then extending the ALCS with a 7-5 win at home Thursday.
Derek Holland allowed solo homers to Miguel Cabrera in the first and Jhonny Peralta in the second as Detroit, seeking its first Series title since 1984, tried to force a Game 7.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of a team than I am of this team,” Leyland said. “They gave everything they had.”