"If [Carlos Lee] leaves, regardless of whether the Rangers won or lost they'll get quality [draft] picks, and even if he does leave, as if the Rangers didn't already get the big stuff in this trade, they probably also got the second-best player in the deal by getting [Nelson] Cruz packaged in." - Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus (07/29/06)
There are times when I still have a difficult time getting my head around the fact that Nelson Cruz made it with this organization long enough to flourish into this. He didn't begin playing organized baseball until he was 16 years old, didn't play above the Low-A level until his age-23 season, was reportedly approached during the spring of 2008 by the Rangers about a conversion from the outfield to the pitcher's mound (an offer which he quickly rebuffed, despite the long-term uncertainty attached to his bat), was stuck on outright waivers at the end of that spring -- and thusly available to any interested claimant with sufficient roster space -- in favor of keeping Jason Botts ... and yet, he's still here. Damn.
To be honest, it's a bit myopic to focus solely on what Nelson Cruz accomplished last night, because that really was a superb all-around team effort: strong starting pitching (much love, Derek Holland), a balanced offensive attack (six different Rangers collected multiple hits) enhanced by some much-desired timely blows with runners on base (much love, David Murphy), and ... well, let's look beyond what happened to Mark Lowe and Yoshinori Tateyama in those final couple of innings Some people probably feel as though the Angels regained some momentum in those final couple of innings, but the Angels can have all the momentum they want with C.J. Wilson on the bump tomorrow night and the three-headed relief monster rested up a bit. "Momentum" is an ephermal beast.
ESPNDallas.com's Richard Durrett relates a story in his morning column about Ron Washington essentially laughing it up with the press before last night's game and remarking that neither himself nor the ballclub were consumed by pre-game tension, in spite of the still-fresh four-game disaster against the Red Sox and the significance of this particular three-game set against the Angels. I realize there is a certain subset of fans out there who want to see something happen -- a closed-door meeting, a managerial address, or anything else along those same lines -- in response to particularly tough stretches of baseball, but isn't this the kind of time when being able to roll into each game with basically the same even emotional keel behooves you the most?
"We talk sometimes in this game about guys that could haunt you; 'haunters,' we call them. There are a lot of guys you trade or let go that you know are going to show up in the big leagues, but they are going to be replaceable-type players. Then there are some guys that have that ability where if it clicks, you're going to be reading about this guy for a while. Nellie had that type of ability." - Jon Daniels, ESPN.com (10/04/08)
But I digress, and I really shouldn't digress, because that was absolutely sick. With two home runs (including a reputed 450-plus-foot jack to straightaway center field that evoked memories of Paul Sorrento's legendary Greene's Hill shot), a double, and a single, Cruz became the first Ranger to collect 11 total bases in a single game since Vladimir Guerrero (4-for-4, two home runs) last June 30th ... against the Angels. And the last Ranger to achieve that mark before Guerrero? Andruw Jones (3-for-5, three home runs), on July 8th, 2009 ... once again, against the Angels. Ascribe it to Cruz going gloveless, or to the drop to the seven-hole, or simply random variation, or even some combination of the three, but that was a career-type performance. Embrace the moment.
And embrace the player as well, for that matter. This obviously hasn't been the monster follow-up campaign that some were (unfairly) anticipating, in that he's still hitting "only" .265/.318/.528 (.363 wOBA; 126 wRC+) with 2.4 wins above replacement to his credit after 111 games played, and there's still the rather unsettling matter of his 0.30 walk-to-strikeout ratio -- and yet in spite of the evident shortcomings in his game, he has produced at the level of a top-five power hitter (ranked by isolated power) and a top-25 overall hitter in all of baseball over the last four seasons. There are more recognizable and attention-grabbing names currently occupying spots on this roster than Nelson Cruz, but the Rangers are going to need Cruz to repeat this game-changing act of his before all is said and done if they're going to go as far as they truly want to go.
"Staying in the lineup is the only thing that matters. I don't like the decision [to be dropped in the order], but the only thing that I care about is to be in the lineup." - Nelson Cruz, MLB.com (08/26/11)