Cruz's cleats crush before 462-foot, 117.7 mph HR into Allegheny

June 7th, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- ran onto the field at PNC Park on Thursday in different colored cleats. The right was Dodger blue with a painting of him at 17 years old, back when he had just signed with them. The left, Pirate gold, his current home and the organization that helped him grow into a Major Leaguer.

“I appreciate a lot from them, because they were the first team to give me the opportunity to become a professional baseball player and play the game I love,” Cruz said via interpreter and coach Stephen Morales, on the Dodger cleat. “Just a tribute for them there on my spikes."

Cruz’s potential was apparent very early on in his professional career, which is why the Pirates were willing to roll the dice in 2017 and acquire him at the Trade Deadline. Cruz gave the Dodgers a little taste of what they missed out on, crushing a 462-foot home run in the Pirates’ 11-7 series-finale loss to the Dodgers.

While Cruz has hit some absolute missiles in his time in the Majors, that is the longest homer of his big league career. That shot into the Allegheny River left the bat at 117.7 mph, making it the highest exit velocity of any Pirate home run since Statcast was introduced in 2015.

Cruz has the ability to truly impact a baseball and do some remarkable things. The two hardest-hit balls in baseball both belong to him, registering at 120.4 and 121.5 mph back on May 21. He holds the record for the hardest-hit ball in the Statcast era, too, lining one at 122.4 mph in 2022.

But when Cruz can elevate the baseball on top of that hard contact, it can travel very, very far.

That’s apparent. He can also be streaky. In the eight games leading up to Thursday, Cruz recorded just four hits over 31 at-bats with 15 strikeouts. Some peaks and valleys are expected with a young player in his first full Major League season, especially considering he is coming back from missing almost all of 2023 with a fractured left ankle.

Cruz’s swings on Thursday looked better. Not just the ball he sent into the river, but also a third-inning flare when he got his hands in on a 97 mph Walker Buehler fastball and went the opposite way for a single. Cruz said earlier in the season that he wanted to make more of a conscious effort to use the whole field as a hitter. If he’s able to go the other way with a pitch like that, it’s usually a good sign.

“I had my ups and downs, like every hitter,” Cruz said. “But I think some of the adjustments I've been making, I think I'm in a better spot, for sure."

While Cruz’s eighth-inning shot was titanic and off Dodgers closer Evan Phillips -- so it was hardly a cheapie -- Los Angeles was pretty comfortably ahead by that point. Bailey Falter had a rare off night and was pulled after four-plus innings of five-run ball. Ben Heller allowed five runs in his Pirates debut in relief, which set the stage for a missed opportunity to secure a three-game sweep.

A series win against a World Series favorite is hardly anything to scoff at, though, especially if Cruz’s swing is in a good spot and he’s righting the ship. Thursday was a hint that he could be.

“Baseball, like everybody knows, is a roller coaster,” Cruz said. “It goes up and down. As a player, you always want to do good. It feels good when things go in your way, for sure."