In the grand scheme of things, it really didn't matter whether the ball landed in front of or behind the left field fence. As soon as Ryan Perry's ill-fated pitch was turned back around with any kind of meaningful force behind it, the ballgame was over, and the Rangers were assured of their 2-0 series lead and rapidly increasing control over the ALCS. Pure, emotionless logic would dictate that in this small sample-sized, live-or-die post-season gauntlet, it's far less about how you try to attain your desired outcome, and far more about whether you actually do attain it. In that sense, the only thing that really matters this morning is that the Rangers boast two wins while the Tigers have none to show for their frenzied efforts, and that this championship series is now beginning to teeter right on the edge of sweep-in-four territory.
Except that we're not wired to think that way. Barring a series of unfortunate events that sends society spiralling downward into a dark, emotionless, dystopian future, we're never going to be wired to think that way. We're always going to care about the underlying process, we're always going to focus on the discrete events that constitute the narrative ... and we're always, always, always going to remember moments like the final 10 seconds of last night's game, even if the outcome would have been the same if the ball had simply one-hopped the outfield wall.
In that final at-bat, probability was both the Rangers' greatest ally and worst enemy. On the one hand, you had a scalding-hot Nelson Cruz -- already 2-for-3 on the day with a game-tying home run in his back pocket -- squaring off against walk-prone Tigers reliever Ryan Perry with the bases juiced and nobody out in a knotted 11th-inning affair. According to Tom Tango's run frequency matrix, the historical odds of a team scoring at least one run given a bases-loaded, no-out game state register at 87.2 percent. Of course, Texas had improbably squandered that exact same game state just two innings earlier when David Murphy and Mitch Moreland conspired to kill a potential game-winning rally in the bottom of the ninth inning ... but surely, surely, lightning wasn't going to strike in the same place twice? Surely, they wouldn't screw this up again?
For at least a few fleeting moments, probability seemed to turn against Texas. Cruz rendered a massive hack at Perry's first-pitch slider on the inner half and nicked it to the backstop, then hammered a marginally further inside heater into the second-level club seats outside of the left field foul pole. It's worth stopping at this point and mentioning that 0-and-2 holes are absurdly deep, even for hitters that completely overwhelm their mound opponents in talent. Case in point: Cruz, for his career, is a .163/.199/.289 hitter (in 402 PA) after falling that far behind in the count, with 16 walks against 200 strikeouts. Perry, for his career, has smothered opposing hitters to the tune of .142/.168/.192 (in 125 PA) after achieving 0-and-2 counts, with 61 strikeouts against just three walks. In no way, shape, or form was this a good place for Cruz to be in.
The problem, though, was this -- Cruz had already rediscovered his previously lost sense of timing at the plate, and after falling into an 0-and-2 hole, he forced himself to scale back his aggressiveness, to slow himself down, and to refocus on driving the ball into the outfield. Perry, meanwhile, had already had his cage rattled by a pair of sharp line-drive hits to begin the inning and a third bloop hit via Mike Napoli, and found his command lacking as is. The balance of power was already shifting back into Cruz's direction when pitch No. 3, a down-and-away slider that would have completely wiped out Juan Gonzalez once upon a time, was thankfully deemed ball one by Larry Vanover.
Perry's fourth pitch, a hanging slider that badly missed its intended downward location, departed from Cruz's bat at (approximately) 100.9 mph, pierced the night sky at a 36.6-degree angle, soared 122 feet into the air, and then gently floated down into a writhing throng of eagerly awaiting spectators not far from the same foul pole that he missed two pitches earlier, and off of which he banged his game-tying homer four innings earlier. The rest of the scene is probably best described in video form, or by the golden pipes of Eric Nadel, or by this finely crafted, bandwidth-consuming post that I strung together over here this morning. Perhaps all three, if you're not inclined to let the moment go.
As you've no doubt already heard, it was the first post-season walk-off grand slam in major league history. (Yes, I already know all about Robin Ventura. I don't care.) What you may not have heard, however, is that there had been 41 other walk-off home runs clubbed in post-season history -- 23 with no runners on base, 12 with one runner on, and six with two runners on. Since the beginning of the 1903 World Series, nearly 100,000 post-season plate appearances had elapsed -- 99,350 going into Game 2, to be precise -- without a walk-off grand slam transpiring. As far as the Rangers' franchise is concerned, it was the seventh walk-off grand slam recorded by a Rangers hitter since 1972 ... in 243,865 regular + post-season plate appearances.
If you set that all on a seasonal scale (the average major league team compiles about 6,250 plate appearances per season), that's around one walk-off grand slam for every 5½ seasons played by the Rangers dating back to the inception of their days in Texas ... and one walk-off grand slam for what is nearly the equivalent of 16 full seasons of all-time major league post-season plate appearances.
Once upon a time not long ago (say, back during the divisional playoff round), Cruz was mired in a 1-for-15, no-walk slump, and pockets of reactionary fans began calling for some measure of action to be taken against him -- further burial in the batting order, at the very least, if not outright removal from the lineup altogether. That struck me as terribly short-sighted then, and it appears downright laughable now. By no means was this a great season for Cruz, and by no means did this season help bolster the movement to confer him a nice, shiny, new multi-year contract extension ... but he is still a good hitter with game-changing power and a near-elite offensive ceiling, and, well, doesn't there come a point where you have to implicitly trust the big guns that helped get you to where you are in the first place?
And now, this morning, we find that the "where" is two wins away from another American League pennant, from another playoff opponent lying crumpled in the rear-view mirror ... and from another precious crack at the one thing this franchise covets above all else.