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Cruz makes big splash in Mariners' sweep

Slugger launched his league-leading 18th homer into center-field tank

ST. PETERSBURG -- Nelson Cruz has created quite a splash for the Mariners in his inaugural season in Seattle, but the big slugger took that to a new level by landing his game-winning three-run blast into the open fish tank in right-center field at Tropicana Field in Wednesday's 3-0 victory over the Rays.

Cruz became just the fourth player ever to splash down among the rays in the 35-foot, 10,000-gallon "touch tank" where fans can literally feel the fish. The others were Jose Lobaton of the Rays in 2013, Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers in 2013 and Luis Gonzalez of the Dodgers in 2007.

Cruz smiled when asked about his Major League-leading 18th homer hitting the pool, but wouldn't acknowledge whether he saw the splash or not.

"I was just hoping it would drop where they couldn't catch it," he said. "That was my hope."

Really, he didn't know if the ninth-inning blast -- tracked at 430 feet by Statcast™ -- would clear the 404-foot center-field fence?

"I hit it OK," he allowed with a large grin. "That was a good swing, yes."

Cruz has had a lot of good swings in his first season for Seattle. He's hitting .341 with 38 RBIs and his 18 homers are the most by the end of May for any Mariner since Ken Griffey Jr.'s 20 in 1999. Only two Mariners -- Griffey and Alex Rodriguez -- have ever hit more homers by the end of May, Griffey having hit 24 in '97, 22 in '94, 20 in '99 and 19 in '98 while A-Rod launched 20 in '98.

Cruz still has four games at Safeco Field against the Indians before the month ends. But he's more worried about piling up wins than home runs, and the victories are finally accumulating as well as Seattle has won 12 of its last 18 games and went 6-3 on the just-completed road trip to pull even at .500 (23-23) for the first time since sitting 3-3 in the first week.

"This is the team we thought we'd be when we came up from Spring Training," Cruz said. "It's nice to see contributions from everybody. The pitching is there and the offense is clicking. So it's nice."

The only time Cruz hasn't done his part, it seems, was when he was thrown out trying to steal second on his own after leading off the 10th inning on Tuesday with a single. That faux paus was erased when Kyle Seager followed with a home run that stood up as the game-winner in a 7-6 victory, but Cruz was still hearing about it Wednesday.

"They said, "Good hit, bad baserunning,'" he said with a smile.

Nobody had any complaints after his splashing success on Wednesday, though the ultimate landing spot was just a bonus.

"That was neat," teammate Seth Smith said, "but we'd have taken it no matter where it went."

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast.
Read More: Seattle Mariners, Nelson Cruz