ARLINGTON -- Nelson Cruz came into the American League Championship Series riding a late-season slump and representing a major question mark in the Rangers' postseason hopes.
He departs carrying the ALCS Most Valuable Player trophy and a new record for the most home runs in a postseason series with six after slugging another round-tripper in Saturday's clinching 15-5 blowout win for Texas in Game 6.
The previous record for home runs in a postseason series was five. Reggie Jackson (1977) and Chase Utley (2009) hit five in the World Series, while Ken Griffey Jr. (1995) and Juan Gonzalez (1996) pulled the feat in Division Series play.
Cruz's 13 RBIs were also the most in Major League history for a single playoff series. He finished the six games batting .364 (8-for-22).
"He had an unbelievable series," said Rangers veteran Michael Young. "When Nelly gets hot, he's as dangerous as any hitter in the game, and hopefully he can keep it rolling in the World Series."
Cruz capped off his remarkable eight-day span with a double and home run in Saturday's win, his final hit a soaring blast over the left-field fence at Rangers Ballpark off reliever Brad Penny.
With his two-run shot in the Rangers' ALCS clinching victory, Nelson Cruz set the record for most home runs in a postseason series.
Ken Griffey Jr.
Cruz's six home runs and two doubles in the series left him one shy of the LCS record of nine extra-base hits by the Yankees' Hideki Matsui in 2004 against the Red Sox.
"I feel like the last few games I felt better every day," Cruz said amid the celebration in the Rangers' clubhouse. "Even today my timing was better. I was able to drive the ball the other way. This is amazing. It's a great group of guys. [Manager Ron] Washington did his job when he brought in relievers. Everything worked."
And nothing worked better than the Rangers' right fielder, who had hit just .190 with one home run and three RBIs in his final 11 games of the season after returning from a strained left hamstring in mid-September. He then went 1-for-15 with no home runs or RBIs in the four-game ALDS win against the Rays.
But Cruz answered any questions in a hurry in the ALCS, ripping a home run in Game 1, two more in Game 2 and then adding shots in Games 4, 5 and 6.
He won the second game with a walk-off grand slam, the first in Major League playoff history. He hit a three-run home run in the 11th inning of Game 4, after throwing out Miguel Cabrera at the plate to keep the game tied in the bottom of the eighth inning.
In other words, there wasn't much Cruz didn't do to elevate the Rangers back to the World Series for a second straight year.
"Right now, I'm just enjoying it," he said. "After the season, after we win the World Series hopefully, I'll sit down and relax and put it all in perspective."
Cruz stayed in Saturday's runaway victory despite appearing to tweak a muscle in his side on a swing in the fourth inning, with trainers coming to the plate before allowing him to stay in the game.
"I felt it when I swung and missed," Cruz said. "I guess I just swung too hard. Michael [Young] told me to just be smart and if I had to come out, I had to come out.
"But I wanted to stay in the game. It's got to be something really, really bad to come out of this game."
By the end of the night, he was standing on the podium at the center of Rangers Ballpark hoisting the MVP trophy as fans cheered "Cruuuuuzzzzz" and chanted "M-V-P, M-V-P."
Not bad for a guy who hit seventh in the lineup the entire series after coming in carrying one of the coldest bats on the team. But when Cruz hit a blast off Tigers ace Justin Verlander in the fourth inning of the series opener, he had an idea things were looking up.
"I didn't go to the Minors to rehab, so it took me a little time," he said. "But just one swing. It's been like that all year. One swing can change things. That home run against Verlander turned me around."
Cruz now has 12 home runs in the past two postseasons, a Major League record for back-to-back years, and tying him for 14th with Yogi Berra and David Ortiz on the career postseason home run list. He also became the first player in postseason history to hit two extra-inning home runs in the same series.