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Nelson Cruz leads road power surge

HOUSTON -- Nelson Cruz continues to hit mammoth home runs for the Rangers.

And that's not just meant to describe his homers, the latest a 436-foot rocket that carried over the bleachers and the railroad tracks in left field at Minute Maid Park and hit the second row of window pains with the roof closed on Friday.

This was the fourth time in 35 games that Cruz has hit a home run to either tie a game or bring the Texas Rangers within a run in the middle to late innings. Cruz tied Friday's game with the Houston Astros at 2-2, setting the stage for Jeff Baker and David Murphy to follow with long balls for a 4-2 victory.

Cruz has hit eight home runs this season. He's hit two homers in the last six days that have tied a game that the Rangers eventually won. Cruz's clutch bat is as big a reason as any as to why, at 22-13, the Rangers are nine games over .500 for the third time this season and lead the American League West by five games.

Cruz admitted after Friday's win that he is locked in to key at-bats this season. And he's producing. He belted a two-run home run off of Boston Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester on Sunday that tied the game at 3-3 in the seventh inning and led to a 4-3 win and three-game sweep of the series.

"When you're in a close situation and you can tie the game with a homer you're aware of that," Cruz said. "I tried to get selective."

Baker did the same thing to give the Rangers their first lead in the top of the seventh. Leading off the inning, Baker lifted a sinker from Astros reliever Wesley Wright that carried into the first row of the right-field seats. It appeared for a moment like left fielder Trevor Crowe might be able to scale the short wall and steal the homer, but Baker's fourth long ball made it over Crowe's glove into the hands of a fan.

"It was a good pitch to hit and I kind of let it go," Baker said. "I thought I hit it well. When [Crowe] started tracking it I thought it might be close. It's nice to contribute."

David Murphy added a crucial insurance run for a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning with his first home run in 39 at-bats this season against a left-handed pitcher. Murphy, a defensive replacement for Baker, gave the Rangers their second home run from the seventh spot in the batting order with a four-bagger to right-center field.

"I hadn't taken a swing that good in a long time," Murphy said. "I haven't hit a home run off of a lefty in like three years. It felt great. It felt good to do that for my teammates. It felt good to see my teammates' reaction when I got back in the dugout. They know that I've been struggling -- and everybody has been through it -- and it's cool to see how much guys care about each other in this clubhouse."

Baker and Murphy followed Cruz's momentum-changing dinger. The Rangers had an American League-worst 14 road homers going into Friday's game.

Cruz was looking for a cutter and mashed it. Members of the Houston media who regularly attend games here said Cruz's home run would have left the stadium had the roof been open. But rains throughout the day kept the ballpark closed to the elements.

Baker was asked after the game what he thought about Cruz's homer, which may have brought down another round of storms after the Astros' Friday night fireworks show had briefly required the roof to be opened.

"The one he barely hit out?" Baker said. "That wasn't a wall scraper. That picked us up big and got us back in the game. It got me by about 150 or 200 feet."