The symmetry is too spooky to ignore.
Nelson Cruz, the 39-year-old Twins slugger, exited Thursday’s game against the Royals with 39 home runs on the season and 399 for his career. He reached those marks with a pair of home runs on 9-19-19.
A home run on 9-20-19 would mark the fourth time in his career that Cruz would top 40 home runs in a season and would make him only the 57th player in major league history to eclipse 400 home runs.
Cruz said late Wednesday night he hadn’t thought much about his impending arrival in that club.
“I think more when media ask me, like right now,” Cruz said with a smile. “I just focus in, go and have good at-bats and if it happens, it will happen.”
A lot has been made of Cruz’s intrepid work ethic, how he keeps his body in such great shape to be able to produce like this, over such a long season (and at such an advanced age, relatively speaking). His penchant for wanting to get his sleep is legendary — how he coaxed the Twins into building a nap room where he and others could catch some Z’s before a game.
“I try to get more than 10 hours [per day],” Cruz said.
All that has contributed to Cruz’s longevity. But he has weaponized his experience, the thousands of pitches he has seen and situations he has faced, into actionable institutional knowledge at the plate. This has had as much to do with his production as keeping his body fresh.
“If I had my brain 10 years ago I’d definitely be better,” Cruz said. “Because you can be younger. But through my work every day, make sure I’m prepared for every game so when the time comes I’m ready.”
Cruz admitted he hadn’t thought much about what career home run 400 would mean, saying Thursday it would be “special” to reach that mark. There’s another milestone that Cruz has had his eye on since the beginning of his career. One that seemed improbable as Cruz entered his 30s but seems even more improbably within reach as he nears his 40s — 500 home runs. That club, which has 27 members, all but guarantees entrance into the Hall of Fame, except for those linked to performance-enhancing drugs. Cruz has his own history voters would have to sort through. He was suspended 50 games in 2013, claiming he made a “mistake” in taking a banned substance to help with a health problem. But there was no decrease in Cruz’s production after the suspension. He has hit 242 home runs since.
Could he get to 500? Cruz hasn’t hit fewer than 37 home runs since 2013, so three more seasons like that one and he will get there by the time he is 42. A comparison would be David Ortiz, who hit 38 home runs when he was 40.
“You can do anything,” Cruz said. “[Hitting 500 home runs] is something that as a player is on your mind. But you have to focus in on what you can do to help your team and what you can do to be better every day.”
His manager and hitting coach aren’t putting it past him.
“When you start talking about best hitters we’ve seen in the last 20 years, he’s certainly one of those guys you’re going to talk about,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Does he have a chance to go for 500? Of course he does. He’s gotten 400. Not many get to 400, so you’re never going to bet against someone who has gotten this far and done this many positive things.”
Added hitting coach James Rowson: “I never set ceilings. You look at a guy like that and the way he’s swinging the bat this year, and how he’s going about it, I would never bet against him.”
Not many would. Time remains undefeated, as it is with everyone, but Cruz has found a way to make it wait a little longer than usual for victory.