Nelson Cruz’s Second-Ever Three Home Run Game Puts Him in Elite Company

Photo credit: Jordan Johnson (USA Today Sports)

Nelson Cruz’s third at-bat on Saturday night stood out because he struck out swinging.

The 38 year old slugger, a late-bloomer who made his first All-Star Game at age 28, recorded his first-ever three home run game on July 25 against the Chicago White Sox.

His second one made history.

“My vocabulary is not good enough to really do the guy justice,” said Rocco Baldelli when asked about Cruz’s 3-for-4 game against the Kansas City Royals on Saturday. “If you’re around long enough, you see a lot of impressive things, but what we’re watching right now is something that the likes of it, I haven’t seen anything like it before.”

How impressive is it? Consider this:

  • He became the third player to have two three-home-run games within 10 days of each other, joining Doug DeCinces (California Angels, 1982) and Johnny Mize (St. Louis Cardinals, 1938).
  • He now has 390 career home runs, passing Hall of Famer Johnny Bench and tying Graig Nettles for 62nd on the all-time home run list. He’s three away from Jim Edmonds for 61st all-time.
  • He has 30 home runs on the season, breaking a tie with Chili Davis (1991) for the most single-season home runs by a Minnesota Twins designated hitter.
  • He now has six consecutive seasons with at least 30 home runs, joining Albert Pujols (12, 2001-12), Miguel Cabrera (seven, 2007-13) and Edwin Encarnacion (eight, 2012-current) as the only other active players with streaks of six consecutive seasons with 30-plus home runs.
  • He is the first player in Twins history to have multiple three home run games in the same season.

“I was asking after his third one, ‘Do we just celebrate every single time or do we just treat this as a normal at-bat every time and pat him on the back a little bit?’” offered Kyle Gibson, who started on Saturday, in jest.

“But yeah, he’s seeing the ball really well. It’s something where when you see him take BP or you see his swing path or pitch against him, you know that’s the type of swing path he has. He keeps the bat in the zone a long time, and when he gets the pitch he’s looking for and in the location he’s looking at, it’s really hard to get him out.”

He might be Minnesota’s best free-agent signing. He’s a good clubhouse presence. He nearly hit three home runs on Friday as well. But he didn’t have a lot to say about it afterwards.

“One at-bat at a time, you know,” he said after the game. “What happened yesterday, what happened today, is over. Tomorrow is a new game.”

There’s probably some lessons to be learned here. One, that player development is not linear, and sluggers sometimes scuffle through their early- to mid-20s and become stars in their 30s. Two, that an emphasis on a routine and staying in the present can pay off. And three, cat naps can do wonders.

“I’ve just been able to stay healthy,” he concluded, while confirming that he got his usual pregame nap today. “I thank God for giving me a chance to be able to play [so] many games.”

Cruz signed for $14 million this season and has a $12 million team option for next season. Sources say the Twins will pick that up.

In a game that was delayed two hours due to weather and Joe Nathan’s induction into the Twins Hall of Fame, and Minnesota crushed Kansas City 11-3, Cruz gave people a reason to stay at the game until around 11:00 pm local time.

After all, it would be unfortunate if the last at-bat you saw from him was a strikeout.

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