Oct 10: Texas Rangers Nelson Cruz, left, and teammates react after he hit a grand slam home run in the 11th inning of Game 2 of the American League championship series to beat the Detroit Tigers 7-3.AP
St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols (5) slides safely past Milwaukee Brewers' Marco Estrada (41) to score during the fifth inning of Game 2 of baseball's National League championship series Monday, Oct. 10, 2011, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)AP
After a 12-3 victory over the Brewers in Monday night's Game 2, the Cardinals are headed home tied in the series with ace Chris Carpenter taking the mound in Game 3. Things are looking a lot brighter than they did after blowing a big lead in the first game of the series.
"If you want to make it a competitive series, winning a game here, that's a big step in the right direction," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
Carpenter faces Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo on Wednesday night.
Sweep three games at home and the Cardinals move on to the World Series — but in a matchup of two intense NL Central rivals who have played each other evenly all season, nobody's counting on that.
"It's a pretty evenly matched series," Cardinals slugger Lance Berkman said. "I would imagine that this thing is a long way from being over."
It was a temporary setback for the Brewers, who remain confident despite some cracks developing in their starting pitching beyond Gallardo and Zack Greinke.
"Sometimes, you're going to get spanked a little bit," center fielder Nyjer Morgan said.
Pujols certainly spanked the Brewers' pitching in Game 2 — over and over and over. The three-time MVP went 4 for 5 with a home run, three doubles and five RBIs.
His big hits came one night after Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder bashed the Brewers to a 9-6, come-from-behind victory in Game 1. This time, the big bats couldn't bring Milwaukee back — even at Miller Park. Milwaukee was the best home team in the majors all season and the Brewers had won all four home games in the playoffs until Monday.
"It wasn't joyful," Fielder said. "You've just got to deal with it and move on."
Until Monday, Pujols hadn't been producing runs in this year's playoffs.
He was 1 for 4 in Sunday night's loss, hitting into a double play with runners on first and third in the seventh inning. A run scored on the play, but it seemed to be an indication that Pujols wasn't quite on his game. He came into Monday with only one RBI in the Cardinals' first six postseason games.
"You learn from the mistakes that you made," Pujols said. "Yesterday was just so tough. Going to bed, I was just thinking about some of the opportunities I had to help our ballclub win. I turned that page, knowing today was a new day."
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, of course, has seen such things from Pujols before.
"The last time we saw them at their place he was swinging the bat just like this," Roenicke said. "You can't make mistakes to him. You have to hit spots. You have to keep it down in the zone. He doesn't miss too many mistakes."
On the ALCS side of things, Cruz hit the first game-ending grand slam in postseason history, sending the defending AL champions to Detroit with a 2-0 lead in the American League championship series after a 7-3 victory over the Tigers in 11 innings Monday.
"That's the guy you want to see right now," Elvis Andrus said. "He's getting hot again. That's what we're looking for."
The high drive to left off Ryan Perry was the second homer of the game for Cruz, and his third in the ALCS after struggling so badly in the first round of the playoffs (1 for 15 with only a single against Tampa Bay).
He now has the Rangers on Cruz control in the ALCS. They are two wins away from their second consecutive World Series after having never won a postseason series before last year.
"When Nellie gets going like he's going, he's tough to beat," Ian Kinsler said. "Hopefully he can continue that and carry us."
Lewis was on a flight ahead of the team, and was probably already in Detroit before the 4-hour, 25-minute marathon ended in Texas. Fister flew home with the rest of the Tigers.
Cruz doubled early and chased Tigers starter Max Scherzer with a tying home run in the seventh. Then he was hit near the right wrist by a Jose Valverde fastball in the ninth, when the Rangers blew a bases-loaded chance — same as Detroit had done in the top half of the inning.
"When I got hit, I thought it was worse," Cruz said. "In that situation, you want to stay in the game. Thank God I got a chance to win the game."
Manager Ron Washington said Cruz "was a little scared" because the area where he got hit was already black and blue.
"But after the doctor checked him and told him he was fine, then Nelson got up," Washington said. "We certainly needed everything he gave us tonight. He tied the ballgame, and he won it."
Michael Young, the Rangers' career hits leader, snapped an 0-for-15 postseason slide when he led off the 11th with a single off Perry, the fifth Detroit pitcher. Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli followed with singles, the latter on a liner to right-center that looked as though it would be caught. Instead, right fielder Andy Dirks let the ball glance off his glove as center fielder Austin Jackson ran behind him.
"It was one of those balls that's a little between us, should have been caught," Dirks said, adding there was no miscommunication between him and Jackson.
The ball dropped for a single that loaded the bases. That brought up Cruz, who also homered in Texas' 3-2 win in the series opener.
Just before his game-ending blast, Cruz fouled a ball deep into the stands near the pole. He stood briefly and watched when he connected again before a trip around the bases that ended with him getting mobbed at the plate by the Rangers.
"It was amazing," said Cruz, who is 4 for 7 with three homers, a double and six RBIs in the ALCS. "First two pitches, I was too aggressive. I hit the ball — foul ball, foul ball. So after that, I told myself just slow down and try to hit a fly ball to the outfield."
STATS LLC said Cruz's slam was the first to end a postseason game — with a postscript. Robin Ventura sent a bases-loaded drive over the fence to finish a New York Mets victory against Atlanta in the 1999 NLCS, but was swarmed by teammates between first and second.
Ventura never made it around the bases and was officially credited with an RBI single. His 15th-inning drive for a 4-3 Mets win in Game 5 came to be known as "the grand slam-single."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.