Somehow, Nelson Cruz has never hit three home runs in a game.
He’s had 25 career multi-homer games, but never more than two bombs in any single game, which seems shocking for the Seattle Mariners designated hitter who seems to hit his home runs in bunches.
Cruz had one of the finer games of his career Friday night in Boston, rocking a three-run home run 465 feet on the first pitch he saw from Steven Wright, a knuckleball, in the first inning. He had another three-run home run in the fourth that traveled “only” 443 feet and left Fenway Park. The first careened off of a light tower.
Cruz went 4-for-5 with seven RBI, accumulating all of those by the fourth inning. He was far from the problem in the Mariners’ eventual 14-10 loss, but he never did get that eighth RBI, which means Alvin Davis, Mike Cameron and Mike Blowers still share the Mariners’ single-game record.
But the most encouraging thing is Cruz being Cruz — even at the spry age of 37. He’ll turn 38 in a week.
On May 27 his season batting average had dropped to .219, and before Saturday’s game that was up to .266. He’s hitting .345 with a 1.219 OPS since May 27.
For reference, Mike Trout leads the majors with a 1.143 season OPS.
Translation: Cruz has been raking.
“He’s healthy,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters following Friday’s game. “He’s got his legs under him. He’s seeing the ball good. He’s feeling a lot better.”
That’s why Cruz has been — typical Cruz.
No quad injury, no twisted ankle, he hasn’t been hit by a pitch in a couple of weeks and you can see all of this most translate on the base paths with the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Cruz’s head-first dives into bases.
“What we’re seeing from Nellie is what looks to be normal Nelson Cruz,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said on one of his recent podcasts.
Not that Cruz took much time off, even when he was clearly hobbled. He gamed his wasy through it. Cruz had one stint on the 10-day disabled list in April because of his sprained ankle, but he’s since avoided slipping on dugout steps.
And all of that hobbling on his legs also meant he wasn’t getting the ball in the air, but Cruz got plenty of air under the ball in Friday’s game.
“What we’re seeing now is the lift back on his swing because he can sit on his back side a little more,” Dipoto said. “He had gotten very rotational in his swing because he couldn’t really get into his legs. As a result he was making his 115-mph exit velocity contact, but it was mostly down — ground balls, low line drives. We’ve seen Nellie get more lift on his swing.”
Cruz had hit nine home runs his previous 13 games entering Saturday, and those 13 games were against some of the best teams. He’s hit 10 home runs his past 16 games. Since May 24, Cruz leads the majors in home runs and is second in RBI.
He reached 20 home runs for the season after Friday’s performance. He’s the only player in the majors to have at least 20 home runs every year since 2009.
Dipoto was asked about Cruz’s lack of movement in his swing, and he remembered back to a batter he often faced in his own major league career as a reliever.
“(It’s) almost like Paul Molitor,” Dipoto said. “There was no movement. The barrel-to-ball skill was so clean, it was impossible to pitch to him when he’s like that. Nellie is like that, but he adds top-of-the-scale power. It takes a lot of body strength to do that without generating some type of sway or momentum in your swing. … Nellie does it stop-to-go, and when he does, he hits it 125 mph.”
Just look at the company Cruz joined Friday night. That was his fifth career game of at least seven RBI, and since RBI became an official stat in 1920, Cruz is one of six players to have at least seven RBI in at least five different games — joining Lou Gehrig (nine), Ted Williams (six), Joe DiMaggio (five) Jimmie Foxx (five) and Alex Rodriguez (five).
He’s still looking for that game with at least three home runs, although Rafael Palmeiro, David Ortiz an Garry Sheffield, for all their homers, never hit three in a game, and each of them ended their careers on the 500-homer plateau.
Cruz entered Saturday with 343 home runs — with 321 of them coming after he turned 28 years old.