2,000 hits later, Cruz remembers very first knock

August 14th, 2022

WASHINGTON -- Nelson Cruz bounced a double off Aaron Harang down the right-field line at Miller Park, slid head first into second base and dusted off his Brewers uniform while he soaked in his first Major League hit.

It was Sept. 28, 2005, and a rookie Cruz had just embarked on the path that led him to career hit No. 2,000 at Nationals Park.

“It’s special,” the 42-year-old said, following the Nats’ 4-3 win over the Padres on Saturday night. “You always kind of have thoughts about it, but it’s different to be in the reality. I have to play for a long time to get to 2,000 hits, so it’s definitely an honor.”

Cruz entered the game two hits shy of the milestone. He went 2-for-3 at the plate, achieving the feat in the eighth inning with a single to right field off reliever Adrian Morejon. The ball was fielded by Juan Soto, one of the many players he has mentored over his 18-year career.

“To get 2,000 hits and to do it as long as he’s done it is just amazing to me,” said manager Dave Martinez. “He’s been such an unbelievable player.”

Cruz, who signed with Washington as a free agent this offseason, became the first player in team history (2005-present) to tally his 2,000th hit in a Nationals uniform, per Elias Sports Bureau. Looking further back into Nats/Expos franchise history, the only other player to do so was Hall of Famer Tony Pérez on June 11, 1978.

Cruz is one of just six active players to accumulate 2,000 hits. He trails Albert Pujols (3,345), Miguel Cabrera (3,076), Robinson Cano (2,639), Yadier Molina (2,148) and Joey Votto (2,093).

“It’s not easy,” said 16-year veteran Aníbal Sánchez. “It’s not easy to go in the box, try to face guys that are really good and be able to get 2,000 hits. I’m happy for him, and I feel proud that he can do that.”

While Cruz has not put up numbers this season like he has in years past -- he is batting .236 with eight home runs through his first 102 games -- the designated hitter has led by example and through his body of work. Fifteen of his 87 hits this season have been doubles, and Martinez noted nearly a quarter of Cruz’s total career hits have gone yard.

“I pay a lot of attention to the way he plays and how he goes about his at-bats,” said 25-year-old Victor Robles. “Especially when he’s struggling a little bit, I talk to him and I ask him what adjustments he makes to try to get out of those. I try to pick his brain as much as possible and learn as much as I can from him. He’s a great player.”

The milestone came with a celebration, of course. As music played inside the Nationals' clubhouse, Martinez commemorated the moment the same way Cruz recently celebrated his 300th managerial win -- with a shaving cream pie to the face.

“I snuck today and got him,” a smiling Martinez said. “I was pretty proud of myself.”

Seventeen years, 1,999 hits and one shaving cream pie after that double in Milwaukee, Cruz reflected on his feat. He considers his first hit the most significant -- “that’s the signature that you play in the big leagues” -- and the excitement of it hasn’t left him even after reaching No. 2,000.

“I was running like crazy to get a double,” Cruz vividly recounted with a smile. “That was a pinch-hit late in the game. We were losing by a lot of runs. So any time that I see kids, young guys coming up and get their first hit, that’s what comes to my mind. That’s the first one.”

The first of many.