Cruz'ing at 40: 2 HR, 4 XBH, 7 RBIs

July 26th, 2020

After the Twins and White Sox traded offensive explosions in the first two games of the 2020 season, the new-look Chicago offense could have made quite a statement with another big show in the rubber match Sunday afternoon.

Instead, just about singlehandedly showed that he and the Bomba Squad are still the juggernauts to beat in the division -- and the Twins’ big bats quickly put any doubt about that to rest.

’s first-inning grand slam got the offense rolling, but Cruz stole the show with seven RBIs and four extra-base hits, including two homers and a pair of doubles. Minnesota sprinted to a 10-run lead by the fourth inning and cruised to a 14-2 victory over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.

"For a lot of people, it's kind of a career day, the kind of day you'd probably never forget,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Maybe Nelson remembers all of them, but I don't know if that's possible. He has a lot of games where he's just extraordinarily impressive.

“The consistent hard contact, it's pretty extraordinary. When he's seeing the ball good, putting those kinds of swings on the ball, I haven't seen too many guys do anything like this.”

Right-hander allowed two runs in five innings in his Twins debut, securing an important series victory over the White Sox to open the season.

At age 40, with a ruptured tendon in his left wrist, Cruz became the fourth-oldest player in Major League history with seven RBIs in a game. He joined Stan Musial, Jason Giambi and Reggie Jackson.

With doubles in the first and second innings, a solo homer in the fourth and a three-run jack in the eighth, Cruz also became the second-oldest player with four extra-base hits in a game since the American League was established in 1901, behind only Rickey Henderson. He finished the game 4-for-5 and scored four runs.

“You never want to take anything for granted in this game, and one person that I know takes nothing for granted is Nellie,” Baldelli said. “From the moment he wakes up, actually, until the moment the game ends and he gets home, he takes care of himself. He works exceptionally hard on the field, off the field, in the weight room. He takes care of his body. He does everything you want, and he also shows everyone else how to do it.”

There’s also just something about the White Sox that brings the best out of Cruz. He hit .433/.521/.917 against the South Siders in 2019, and he now has 11 homers and 31 RBIs against the division rivals in 19 games since he joined the Twins. Minnesota and Chicago will meet seven more times this season.

Just to be clear: It’s nothing personal.

“It's nothing against any one, you know,” Cruz said. “I just try to do my job. If you ask the Royals, they'd probably say that too. For me, it's just business.”

"A tremendous hitter,” said White Sox skipper Rick Renteria. “I'm sure there are other types of situations in which we want to avoid him. We can just work around him or walk him or whatever the case might be.”

The performance marked the 19th four-hit game of Cruz’s career and his fifth with the Twins. (Three of those have come against the White Sox.) His seven RBIs fell one shy of a career high and marked his highest total since June 22, 2018, when he was with the Mariners.

The Twins have been seeing this firsthand for more than a year now, but Cruz’s teammates -- old and new -- still can’t help but marvel at the continued production.

"I'm going to be honest: He hit that second [homer] today, and I looked right at Rocco, and I go, ‘[Dang], this guy's really good,'” Cave said. “Rocco was like, 'Yeah. It's actually pretty incredible.'”

"What a guy,” Maeda added. “He's just hitting, and home runs. And as a pitcher looking at him, I don't think there's a pitch you can throw to him to put him away. I'm really glad we're on the same team. It gets me relaxed to have him on the team instead of playing him."

It wasn’t only Cruz who did the damage in a well-rounded onslaught from the Bomba Squad. The Twins sent eight men to the plate in the first inning and 10 more in the second, taking advantage of wildness and inefficiency from White Sox starter Reynaldo López and long reliever Gio González for nine runs on seven hits in the first two frames, including Cave’s grand slam and a bases-clearing double by Cruz.

Cave is second on the Twins with six RBIs in 2020 while he sees more regular playing time in place of the injured , who could return to the team Tuesday for the home opener.

Maeda didn’t really need all of that run support, as the right-hander allowed four hits and struck out six in a strong debut following his acquisition in an offseason trade from the Dodgers. Maeda faced two batters over the minimum in the first four innings before he hit a bump in the fifth, when he allowed a two-run blast to Luis Robert, the 22-year-old center fielder’s first career home run, but otherwise wrapped up an effective outing.

Thorpe dealing with left leg contusion
Rookie left-hander , ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 10 prospect in the organization, pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings in relief before he was removed from the game in the eighth inning after taking a ground ball by José Abreu off his left knee area. Baldelli said after the game that Thorpe is doing fine and is expected to recover following a few days of treatment.