ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nelson Cruz nearly didn't take his scheduled at-bat in the eighth inning. His said his legs were cramping starting in the fourth inning, and manager Buck Showalter briefly considered pinch hitting for him.
But Cruz decided to make it a quick at-bat anyway, pounding the first pitch he saw from Shawn Tolleson deep into the left-field seats for a 404-foot blast that blew open what moments earlier was a tie score in the eighth inning.
Cruz knew it was out as soon as he hit it. And he took his time rounding the bases to be sure he didn't injure himself.
"I was cramping the whole time," he said.
It was a dramatic home run. Cruz always did have a flair for the dramatic, especially in Arlington. Remember the grand slam in the 2011 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers? It seems that everything with Cruz is big. Big swings. Big misses. Big streaks. Big home runs in big moments.
The home run, not to mention Cruz's presence in an orange and black uniform, had some Rangers fans thinking it had been a big mistake not to re-sign him. But Cruz doesn't think about the "what if" or live in that past. He said he was surprised the market didn't materialize for him, but his reservation about taking the Rangers' one-year offer was that "the outfield was already set." Texas wanted Cruz as its DH; he still feels he can help a team in the outfield.
On Tuesday, he was in left field, a spot he rarely played in Arlington. But it was his bat that made an impact. So much of it was familiar. The quick swing. The speed of the bat. The ball getting out in a hurry.
Cruz admitted that it was "weird" to turn to his right and head to the visiting dugout after rounding the bases at Globe Life Park.
What didn't feel strange was the reception he received. If there was any question as to whether fans would still be upset about his 50-game suspension that contributed to the team's struggles down the stretch (missing the postseason after losing Game 163), it was answered in the first inning. Cruz was cheered. Some fans even stood to give him an ovation.
"They were always behind me when I was here," Cruz said. "I'm thankful for the fans."
Cruz said the decision last year to take the suspension and not appeal was a tough one, as he experienced pressure from various sides.
"That was a difficult time in my life," he said. "I think I went through all that, and it helped me be the player I am right now. I try to stay in the present and leave all that behind me."
He's thankful to be in Baltimore, where he continues to play well in the present. The streaky hitter has found some consistency outside of Texas. He's hitting home runs no matter which park the Orioles travel to, and he leads the league in both home runs (21) and RBIs (55). He's batting .313 on the season, good enough for top 10 in the AL.
Cruz is only adding to his totals in a park where he experienced so many memorable moments.
"It was fun," he said.