Oneil Cruz crushes hardest-hit ball possibly ever

August 24th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- Oneil Cruz was born to break Statcast.

The Pirates’ 6-foot-7 shortstop has already set marks with his crazy strong arm, but in Wednesday’s 14-2 loss to the Braves, he recorded the hardest-hit ball in Statcast history with a 122.4 mph single that nearly went out for a homer at PNC Park.

Cruz saw a first-pitch slider in his second at-bat of the game vs. Kyle Wright, who had not allowed a hit the first time through the order. He lined it to right field at a 17-degree launch angle, and it clanged off the top of the Clemente Wall.

“It's probably good that ball hit a wall, because it might have hurt somebody if it had been up a little higher,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

Were it not for the 21-foot structure -- or if Roberto Clemente had worn No. 18, which would shorten the wall built in tribute to him -- the scorched hit would have been a game-tying homer. Per Statcast, Cruz’s single would have been a home run in 26 ballparks, and he said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez that he thought it was going to leave the yard.

“I did notice that it was starting to go down and about to hit the fence,” Cruz said. “That’s when I started running even harder. But I did expect it to go out. I didn’t expect it to hit the wall and come right back.”

It didn’t just look incredible. From his seat in the dugout, Pirates starting pitcher Mitch Keller -- who allowed seven runs (only two of which were earned) in 3 2/3 innings -- said Cruz’s shot was startling to hear off the bat.

“It sounded like a bomb went off,” Keller said. “It was crazy. I don’t even know how he does it.”

The previous hardest-hit ball since Statcast began tracking in 2015 -- and eight of the previous 10 hardest hits -- belonged to Giancarlo Stanton, who managed exit velocities of 122.2 mph on two occasions: Aug. 9, 2021, and Oct. 1, 2017. Before Cruz's drive, Stanton was responsible for 16 of the top 20 exit velocities tracked by Statcast.

Only three players other than Cruz have hit a batted ball tracked by Statcast with an exit velocity of 120 mph or greater: Stanton (14), Aaron Judge (one) and Gary Sánchez (one).

Cruz now owns the Pirates’ three hardest-hit balls in the Statcast era. He hit a 118.4 mph grounder for a single through the shift vs. Milwaukee on Aug. 4, and he also lined a 118.2 mph single against the Reds in his MLB debut on Oct. 2.

“When I came into the dugout, some of my teammates shared with me that I hit it 122 [mph],” Cruz said. “I smiled, but deep down inside I was like, ‘Wow, I really hit that ball hard.’ Now, finding out that I broke a record, it means a lot to me. That’s something positive to take away from today’s game.”

Earlier this season, Cruz set the mark for the fastest infield assist tracked by Statcast with a 98.7 mph dart to throw out Marlins speedster Luke Williams at first base.

Yes, it is true that Cruz is facing the league adjustments that most rookies experience. The heavy amount of fastballs he saw early on has decreased, and he’s having to adapt to a breaking ball-heavy mix. Entering Wednesday’s game, he had produced a .162/.244/.338 line with 35 strikeouts in 74 at-bats since July 28.

But the Pirates nonetheless put Cruz in the leadoff spot on Wednesday against the right-handed Wright, who has broken out with a now-2.99 ERA this year with the Braves. The Bucs still have a ton of faith in the 23-year-old, particularly against righties, as he works through these growing pains.

Having a hit like that record-breaking single just increases the team’s confidence in him.

“That ball was scorched,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “It was a good swing by him -- a really good swing, really encouraging.”

The rest of the league can see what’s possible from the unique shortstop, too.

“He's got skills,” Snitker said. “My God. I mean, as he gets experience and learns and all that, [he’ll improve] … But you start grading tools, and it's off the charts.

“That's going to be fun to watch.”