By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
1:17 AM EDT, June 4, 2014
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Orioles left fielder Nelson Cruz almost didn’t take his final at-bat Tuesday night against the Texas Rangers, but he wasn’t going to give manager Buck Showalter any reason pull him with the score tied heading into the eighth inning.
Cruz, who was playing in his first game back at Globe Life Park in Arlington, where he spent the past eight seasons of his career with the Rangers, had been bothered by leg cramps since the fourth inning.
“It was bad,” Cruz said. “I wanted to take my last at-bat and hopefully get something going. The game was tied going into that inning.”
By the time Cruz stepped to the plate, the Orioles had scored three runs in the inning, but Cruz then launched a first-pitch delivery from reliever Shawn Tolleson approximately 404 feet into the left-field seats for a three-run homer that capped a six-run eighth in the Orioles' 8-3 win over the Rangers in front of an announced 31,542.
Cruz took a slow trot around the bases, his muscles tightening up with every stride. And he even told Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, his former teammate, that he was going slow because he was cramping as he rounded second base.
“We were debating, he and I, about whether he should take that last at-bat or not,” Showalter said. “He said let me see how it feels on deck, and he took the at-bat, and he got halfway down to first. That was a cramp trot.”
The Orioles had 17 hits in the win. Every starter had at least one hit, and five different players had multiple hits, including struggling rookie catcher Caleb Joseph, who recorded his first career multihit game with two hits.
The Orioles (29-27) won their third straight game and are now 4-4 on their three-city, 10-game road trip through Milwaukee, Houston and Texas. The Rangers fell to 29-29 this year.
Cruz, who has nine homers in his last 14 games, continued his seasonlong tear. He leads the majors with 21 homers and 55 RBIs. He has dominated opponents on the road, hitting 14 homers with 42 RBIs in 33 games away from Camden Yards this season.
Before the game, Cruz wondered how he would be received in his first game back in Arlington, the place where he became one of the game’s top power hitters and was a fan favorite. He hoped he would be received warmly, but knew he would be wearing a different uniform.
Cruz’s questions were answered when he stepped to the plate for his first at-bat Tuesday in the first inning, and many fans in the half-filled seating bowl stood and cheered. There were unquestionably more “Cruz” chants than boos.
“It was pretty good,” Cruz said of the reception. “It was nice. They were always behind me when I was here.
“It was kind of weird. It was kind of like one of my first days in the big leagues. Everything was going fast, but after the first at-bat, you try to stay in the moment and stay focused.”
It was uncertain whether Cruz would be able to play Tuesday after he was hit by a pitch on the left hand Sunday, but the swelling went down and Cruz was able to grip the bat Monday, something he couldn’t do after getting hit.
Joseph, who entered the game with just two hits in 29 at-bats, opened the scoring in the eighth inning with a one-out RBI double in the right-center field gap to score Delmon Young from second.
“I got a fastball and put good wood on it, and it just traveled,” said Joseph, who is getting an opportunity in the major leagues with starter Matt Wieters injured. “It means a lot. I feel like I've been contributing defensively since I got here. It finally feels good to contribute offensively. I'm known as a hitter and haven't shown it, but hopefully tonight gets it going and confidence starts leading right into the rest of the at-bats."
Back-to-back run-scoring singles by Nick Markakis and Manny Machado gave the Orioles a 5-2 lead before Cruz’s jaw-dropping homer shut the door.
The Orioles couldn’t do much damage against left-hander Joe Saunders, who pitched the Orioles into the American League Division Series with a wild-card game win over the Rangers in October 2012 here in Arlington.
Despite a four-hit night from cleanup hitter Adam Jones that included his seventh homer of the season, the Orioles stranded nine base runners, including six in scoring position, before their eighth-inning outburst.
“The guys were kind of frustrated early,” Showalter said. “[Saunders] has always been good at minimizing the damage and keeping his team in the game, the way he can sink some balls with ground balls. He can frustrate you, but we finally got some big at-bats and got some people out there.”
Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez battled control issues early, but he allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings.
“I felt fine,” Jimenez said. “I [was] just in the same situation that I had before. I’m trying to get deeper in the game. I threw too many pitches the first four innings.”
One inning after stranding two Rangers runners on base in the sixth, Brian Matusz (2-1) yielded a game-tying solo homer to catcher Robinson Chirinos to open the seventh inning. But he picked up the win after the Orioles took the lead in the top of the eighth.
Jimenez walked four batters in the game, but he dodged trouble throughout the night, giving up four hits and striking out five. The Rangers were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position against Jimenez. In his first five innings, Jimenez stranded four base runners, including three in scoring position.
“I felt really good doing that,” Jimenez said. “Especially that I was able to minimize the damage, and we got the win. That’s what really matters. You have to do everything possible to get as deep as we can and help the team.”
He left the game with two on and two outs in the sixth before Matusz needed just one pitch to induce a groundout by Leonys Martin.
Over the past five games, the Orioles starting rotation has allowed just six runs over 30 1/3 innings, pitching to a 1.78 ERA over that span. Jimenez has allowed just two runs over 11 2/3 innings in his last two starts.
Jones took a 2-2 pitch the opposite way off the right-field foul pole for a solo homer to open the fourth inning and score the first run of the game. Jones' homer, which came on a 92-mph fastball on the outer half of the plate from Saunders, was his first in 15 days.
Three of Jones’ four hits came off Saunders, improving his average against left-handers this season to .434 (26-for-56).
Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre answered in the bottom half of the fourth inning, lining a 1-0 pitch over the left-field scoreboard for his sixth homer of the season.
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