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Nelson Cruz comes up big as Rays power past Orioles

The veteran DH hits a three-run, game-tying homer, then adds a two-run double to put Tampa Bay ahead.
The Rays' Nelson Cruz celebrates with third base coach Rodney Linares (27) after hitting a three-run home run against the Baltimore Orioles during the sixth inning Friday in Baltimore.
The Rays' Nelson Cruz celebrates with third base coach Rodney Linares (27) after hitting a three-run home run against the Baltimore Orioles during the sixth inning Friday in Baltimore. [ WILL NEWTON | AP ]
Published Aug. 7, 2021
Updated Aug. 7, 2021

BALTIMORE — The Rays got Nelson Cruz for games like this.

Down three to the Orioles after five innings and not looking good in getting there Friday, the Rays rallied for a 10-6 victory.

And Cruz, the veteran designated hitter acquired from Minnesota, did the heavy lifting, delivering a three-run, game-tying homer in the sixth and then a two-run, go-ahead double in the eighth.

It was just the kind of night the Rays envisioned when they made the stunning deal, giving up promising pitching prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman, and taking on $5 million in salary, to add the proven hitter to the middle of their lineup.

“It sure is,” Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “I think we were all thinking that as he was rounding the bases. That’s why you get an impact bat like that. That’s what he’s done his whole career, and that’s what we acquired him to do, and, boy, the timing on that was absolutely perfect.

“We weren’t able to get a whole lot going there, and they were the better team the first half of the game. But Nellie Cruz just being himself right there, coming up huge with the clutch game-tying homer, and then we just rode the momentum out from there.

“Bless his heart and bless his bat,” Kiermaier continued, “because we love seeing that.”

The Rays improved to 66-44 with the win and extended their American League East margin over the Red Sox, who lost to the Blue Jays, to 2½ games. That is the largest division lead for the Rays after the 100-game point of a season since 2008.

Along the way, they picked up their 33rd come-from-behind win of the season, matching the Red Sox for most in the majors, and expanded their major-league leading total of runs from the seventh inning on to 201, with a plus-75 differential.

Cruz got some help Friday, as Wander Franco singled in two runs as part of the Rays’ five-run eighth, while Kiermaier and Manuel Margot were on base four times each. Newcomer Jordan Luplow, filling in with Randy Arozarena on the COVID-19 related injured list, had two hits and a walk and scored twice.

Not everything was good, however, as starter Ryan Yarbrough had another rough outing, allowing five or more runs for the third time in four outings, throwing 97 pitches in five innings. Friday, that included allowing four runs with two outs and seven extra-base hits (four doubles, two homers, one triple), most by a Rays pitcher since Matt Andriese did the same in 2016.

“I can’t sit here and say he’s getting knocked all over the yard, but they’re finding a way to find holes for sure,” manager Kevin Cash said. “There’s some hard-hit balls in there. But it seems like a lot of hits are coming just with guys on base at that worst time. But (we’ve) got confidence in Yarbs that he’ll sort through it and figure it out. He needs to, because he’s a big part of what we’re doing.”

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The Rays are banking on Cruz to be a massive part of their offense, and the initial returns had not been great.

Cruz homered in his July 23 Rays debut but had been off to a slow start overall, hampered by a bruised left foot that knocked him out of the lineup a couple of days. That he went into play Friday hitting .187 (7-for-38) as a Ray with two homers, three RBIs and 12 strikeouts in 10 games, made his big game even better.

“We’re very confident he’s going to do his thing,” Cash said. “And we needed him (Friday). He picked us up in a big way. … Just a bunch of good at-bats. And certainly good for him. I don’t think Nelson has really felt right since he fouled that ball off his foot, but maybe the day off helped a little bit. He was just really locked in.”

Cruz, 41, spoke of what his teammates did to help, and his admiration for longtime White Sox star Paul Konerko, who he tied for 44th place on the all-time home list with No. 439.

But, yes, he acknowledged, it was a good feeling to help his new team in a big way.

“No doubt,” Cruz said. “No doubt. That’s why I was brought here. So, (it) definitely feels good to be able to drive those runs in, especially in those situations.”

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