SEATTLE -- Mariners manager Scott Servais penciled Nelson Cruz into the lineup in right field for Seattle's final game of 2018 on Sunday, an interesting move for a team that beat the Rangers, 3-1, to finish out an 89-win season.
Cruz had played in the outfield in only three games this year in Interleague play, and never at Safeco Field, but the ploy allowed Servais to take the 38-year-old out of the game midway through the fourth inning, giving the crowd an opportunity to extend a standing ovation to the veteran designated hitter as he ran off the field.
Cruz tipped his cap to the crowd, knowing this might be his last game with the Mariners, as he's set to become a free agent this offseason after concluding his four-year, $57 million contract with Seattle.
"It was a good surprise," Cruz said of his first outfield start in an American League park since 2016. "I wasn't expecting that. It was nice to see the love from the fans. That was remarkable. They're always good, not only in the good times, but when we struggle. I can't thank the fans enough for the support they give us."
Cruz went 0-for-2 and finished his year with 37 home runs and 97 RBIs. He said he'd like to return to Seattle, but acknowledged that is far from a certainty as free agency approaches.
"I can tell you, times go quick," he said. "It feels like yesterday when I came here. It's already been four years. I'll just hope for the best and hopefully we can get something done and I can come back. If not, I understand that it's a business."
Servais doesn't know if it's the last time he'll write Cruz's name onto a lineup card, but he made his feelings clear.
"I hope it's not," Servais said. "I really do. I do hope he's back and I say that very sincerely. I know what he's meant to the organization, this team and clubhouse and everything around. I hope he's back here. He is one of my all-time favorites."
Servais has known Cruz from his days as a youngster coming up with the Rangers, when Servais was the farm director for Texas. He values both the player and person.
"To summarize Nelson Cruz, five days ago we were home here and I said, 'Hey Nelly, how much do you want to play down the stretch here these last five days?'" Servais said. "And he looked at me and said, 'I'm the employee. I play when you tell me to play.' That was a very strong message. You don't hear that all the time anymore."
Servais employed numerous backups in the season finale, with spot starter Roenis Elias throwing five scoreless innings with just one hit allowed to pick up the victory. Guillermo Heredia went 2-for-4 with a double and Cameron Maybin went 2-for-2 with a run scored to pace the offense.
The Mariners' final record of 89-73 was the sixth-best mark in the franchise's 42-year history, but they came up well short of a playoff berth after Oakland ran off the best record in the Majors over the second half to grab the American League's second Wild Card berth.
The win gave Seattle a 10-9 season series victory over the Rangers. The Mariners won their season series against all four AL West foes, going 11-8 against the Angels and 10-9 against the Astros and A's.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Adrian Beltre singled to lead off the second inning in what is expected to be his last game for Texas. Then, after getting doubled off first base on a scorching line drive by Joey Gallo, Beltre detoured to the Mariners' dugout railing and exchanged a hug with old friend and former teammate Felix Hernandez before going back to his bench. Beltre later received a standing ovation from the crowd -- as well as applause from all the Mariners players on the field -- before he stepped into the batter's box to lead off the fifth in what turned out to be his final at-bat.
"To see a guy leaving like him, you're going to miss him," said Mariners veteran Robinson Cano. "He was fun. He played hard, he went out every day and competed with everything he's got, but he was always finding a way to make you laugh, like that inning with [Ryon] Healy."
HE SAID IT
"There's something about Nelly. You see the production and all the numbers he puts up and the great at-bats and everything. But his presence in this clubhouse goes slightly unnoticed. What a professional. The guy works unbelievably hard, he plays hard. You never see a lack of hustle or lack of care from him. He's an absolute role model for everybody to look up to and it's been an absolute privilege to play with him." -- Kyle Seager, on Cruz