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04/05/10 7:23 PM ET
Rangers thwart no-hit bid, walk off
Saltalamacchia hits game-winning RBI single in ninth
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers trailed by three runs after six innings and didn't have a hit off Blue Jays starter Shaun Marcum on Monday. But after the game, Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz insisted he wasn't worried. "I felt there was no way that guy was going to shut us down," Cruz said. "He was throwing the ball well, but I knew were going to get to him." The Rangers got to both Marcum and Blue Jays closer Jason Frasor. After Vladimir Guerrero broke up the no-hit bid, Cruz hit a three-run home run in the seventh, and then the Rangers, trailing by a run, rallied for two in the bottom of the ninth for a 5-4, walk-off victory on Opening Day at the Ballpark in Arlington. A crowd of 50,299, the eighth largest in Rangers history, roared with delight when Jarrod Saltalamacchia, batting with one out and the bases loaded, belted one into the right-center-field alley to drive home the winning run. Saltalamacchia was immediately mobbed by his teammates near first base after pinch-runner David Murphy touched home plate with the winning run. "That was an unbelievable feeling," Saltalamacchia said. "I've never had that before. I've never had a walk-off hit before. It was amazing." This was the first walk-off victory for the Rangers on Opening Day since 1980, when Mickey Rivers scored on a wild pitch in the ninth to beat the Yankees, 1-0. But this is the first time in Rangers history they trailed going into the bottom of the ninth on Opening Day and came back to win. "I think we showed our character today," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "No-hit for six innings, first hit in the seventh, and we played nine innings. Those guys played nine innings, they didn't quit. That clubhouse is special." Frank Francisco, with a scoreless ninth inning, picked up the victory. Scott Feldman allowed three runs in seven innings but was spared from picking up a loss in his first Opening Day start because of the Rangers' late-inning heroics. Not that he was worried. "I wasn't thinking negative," Feldman said. "I was thinking Cruzie would hit a three-run home run." He is either psychic or was joking afterward. But that's what happened. Josh Hamilton led off the seventh with a walk, and Vladimir Guerrero broke up the no-hitter with a single to right. Cruz then smacked a 2-2 pitch that was off the plate and sent it through the jetstream into the Rangers' bullpen in right-center for a three-run home run. "That's the beauty of this stadium," Blue Jays outfielder Vernon Wells said. "I was surprised, but he's so strong, and when you get a ball up in this wind, you never know what can happen. It seemed like he was just trying to put it in play, and he put it in play -- kind of." Neftali Feliz was brought out of the bullpen to keep it tied but couldn't do it. Wells lined a bases-loaded one-out single to give the Blue Jays a 4-3 lead, and Washington had to call on Darren Oliver to bail out Feliz. Oliver did just that, leaving the bases loaded by striking out Lyle Overbay and getting John Buck on a weak fly to left. Those outs, plus Francisco's work in the ninth, proved huge because the Rangers weren't finished. Michael Young, after Frasor came on to pitch the ninth, started off the winning rally with a double into the right-center-field gap. After Frasor struck out Hamilton, Guerrero followed with a slow but well-placed grounder up the middle. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez made a diving stop but couldn't get off a throw. Guerrero had an infield hit, leaving the tying run at third and the winning run at first. "I was just trying to hit the ball up the middle, trying to get the runner home," Guerrero said. "It didn't go through but it got the runner to third." Cruz then delivered his second big hit of the game. This one was hardly a blast, but it got the job done. He looped a soft line drive over first base and down the right-field line, scoring Young and moving Guerrero to third. Cruz ended up at second base with a double and a four-RBI afternoon. "This game means a lot to me," Cruz said. "Being in those situations, trying to do everything we can to win the game...we came through in those situations like we're expected." Murphy then pinch-ran for Guerrero and Chris Davis was walked intentionally. That brought up Saltalamacchia, who was 0-for-3 on the afternoon. "I wanted to make sure I got a pitch up," Saltalamacchia said. "I didn't want to swing at a pitch in the dirt. Mike [Young] came through with the double to start the inning and we couldn't let it slide." Saltalamacchia worked the count to 2-2 and then got a slider he liked. With the Blue Jays outfield playing in, Saltalamacchia drove one far out of their reach into the gap in right-center, and Murphy danced home with the winning run for perhaps the biggest Opening Day victory in club history. "I don't know what our record will be at the end of the year," Young said. "But I know how we'll play. We'll lay it on the line every night and play hard for nine innings. That's the one part of our game that never changes."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.