The milestone blast backed James Paxton, who gave the Mariners a rare strong start as the club snapped its home losing streak with a 7-2 win over the A’s.
Despite all his years in baseball, Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz did two things Friday night he’d never done before.
First, he hit his 300th career home run — just the 10th active player to accomplish that.
Then, he reappeared on the top steps of the dugout, smiled big and tipped his helmet to the standing crowd — a curtain call.
Oakland @ Seattle, 7:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
“First time that ever happened to me,” Cruz said. “So that definitely was special.”
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Cruz’s milestone cherry-topped the Mariners’ 7-2 win against the Oakland A’s, a win full of positives for a team that had been short on positives lately.
It snapped the Mariners’ eight-game losing streak at home. It was just their third win in the last 12 games, a slide that had shrunk the gap between the Mariners and the last-place A’s. And James Paxton, the Mariners’ emerging ace, allowed just two runs — and two hits — in seven strong innings.
But it was really Cruz’s night. He and manager Scott Servais were reflective about Cruz’s career.
“That’s special,” Cruz said. “I’ve come a long way. Not only what I did in baseball in the minors but from where I come from in the Dominican. Never in my dreams did I think about hitting 300 homers in the big leagues.”
“I’ve known Nelson for a long time,” Servais said. “There were a lot of people in this game that bet that Nelson Cruz would never hit 300 home runs. He proved a lot of people wrong.”
Cruz has hit 103 of his 300 home runs in his three seasons with the Mariners and, at 37, is one of the team’s respected leaders. It also doesn’t hurt that he is tied for the major-league lead with 68 runs batted in this season.
“He just really shows us how to play the game the right way,” Paxton said.
Cruz delivered the offensive punch, but Paxton provided something just as valuable: a quality, deep start.
General manager Jerry Dipoto said before Friday’s game that his team’s biggest issue has been starting pitching. In particular, he talked about the need for starters to go deeper into games. Which is exactly what Paxton did.
Paxton gave up just two hits and two runs — both in the third inning — and struck out nine. But Servais was most impressed with Paxton at the end.
“I thought that we saw a different James Paxton in the last two innings,” Servais said. “He just went and turned up the dial. And that’s what top-of-the-rotation starting pitching does. We haven’t seen that out of him in the last few starts. Saw it in April when he could smell it. When he went out in the sixth inning, I thought it was a different guy. And then I sent him back out in the seventh, even when he went out with 98, 99 pitches, it was really a no-brainer for me. He wanted the ball, and I was glad to give it to him and let him run.”
“Those last two innings I just kind of reached back and let it rip,” he said.
That set the stage for Cruz’s milestone home run. Cruz had his fingerprints all over Friday’s win. And not just because of the home run. Or because he tied a season high with five RBI.
Something strange happened during the game, and it was because of Cruz: The same song kept playing every time a Mariner came to the plate. It was the walk-up song used by shortstop Jean Segura, a song by the artist El Alfa.
There was a perfectly logical explanation for that. Segura had four hits on Thursday night, and the scuffling Mariners decided that was reason enough for every player to walk up to Segura’s song.
Well, actually, Cruz decided that was reason enough for every player to walk up to Segura’s song.
“Today in the meeting, I was like, ‘OK, let’s do it today,’ ” Cruz said.
So the song worked its magic, Cruz hit his 300th home run, and after the game he smiled at his work and said he would like to play the song again on Saturday.
“I heard some guys are tired of it,” he said. “I’m going to dream with that song in my head.”