HOUSTON — A couple of extras from an event-filled night at Minute Maid Park:
Nelson Cruz says he’s faster than people think. “Well, some days,” he said with a smile.
Still, who could doubt him after the 38-year-old designated hitter hustled down the line and beat out a pair of infield hits on Monday, the first time he’s had two in a game since 2016? Certainly Cruz made sure his teammates realized how much speed he has at his disposal.
“He came in pointing it out, in case anyone was not paying attention,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I thought it was pretty impressive. He’s a big man. I don’t know what he weighs, but it’s not 175 pounds.”
No, but he can still reach fourth gear when it’s absolutely necessary. In the first inning, Cruz hit a smash down the third-base line that Alex Bregman fielded right on the lip of the outfield grass, spun around, and made a long throw. Cruz was safe by a step, his first infield hit of the season. Five innings later, Cruz hit a ball into the hole at shortstop that Carlos Correa tracked down and threw, off-balance, to first. The ball short-hopped first baseman Tyler White, and was ruled a hit.
Cruz said he picks his spots, and it worked out well on Monday. “I wouldn’t say it’s about running, but I can. I don’t use it every time,” he said. “I learned through the years that outs are outs, and you have to know, especially at my age, when to push and when to stay back. Some outs are just outs.”
Does he take pride in beating out ground balls? “The first one, yeah. The other one was luck,” Cruz said. “The first one, that was pretty good, just to make it close. I was fast enough to beat it out, and we scored two runs that inning, so it helped us keep it going.”
Both came with two outs, and both led to runs; the second one actually drove in Jorge Polanco with the Twins’ seventh run.
“He’s a good athlete. He’s 38 years old. To see a big guy that’s 38 years old run like that … “ said Baldelli, the Twins’ 37-year-old manager. “He takes a lot of pride in his base-running. He takes a lot of pride in taking extra bases. It’s fun to watch.”
It could be even more fun, too. “The other day [in Baltimore], they pinch-ran for Jonathan Schoop, so I told him when we came here, we’d run a race and I’d show them that I’m faster,” Cruz said. Is he actually going to race? Cruz laughed. “No. No,” he said. “They know now.”
Jorge Polanco has four home runs this month, which, with more than a week to go in April, is already the second-most he’s ever had in a calendar month. His best ever? The six he had in August 2017.
Which is why something he said after Monday’s game, when Polanco collected four hits including a home run, should thrill Twins fans who remember that late-season run to the playoffs: “I feel good,” Polanco said. “I kind of feel like back in 2017.”
The Twins’ shortstop, who went 1-for-10 in Baltimore, bounced back with his eighth multi-hit game of the season, and the second time he’s had at least four; Polanco had five hits in Philadelphia on April 5. He’s now batting .392, behind only Chicago’s Tim Anderson (.403) in the American League.
Funny thing is, Polanco didn’t know he had homered. When he crushed a Chris Devenski pitch toward the right-field wall in the eighth inning, right fielder Josh Reddick rushed back and leaped for it, then crumpled to the warning track as the fans cheered. It turned out that he may have gotten a glove on the ball, but couldn’t hold on to it— a fact that took a couple of seconds for umpire Angel Hernandez to confirm, as Polanco slowed down.
“It was close to the wall, and his glove was pretty close to the ball, so I thought he caught it for a second,” Polanco said. “But then everybody was clapping — ‘Let’s go, let’s go.’ So it was fine.”
“He’s swinging the bat well, but it’s the quality of these [at-bats],” Baldelli said. “He gives himself an opportunity because he swings at good pitches, and he finds a way to get the barrel on the ball on a very consistent basis. He doesn’t change his approach very much, he goes up there and does what he does well, and it’s working.”