MINNEAPOLIS -- For much of Tuesday night’s game, Nelson Cruz provided the Twins’ only offense against Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz. By the end of the contest, the 39-year-old designated hitter found himself -- once again -- etched in the Twins’ record books.
Cruz continued his torrid second-half power show with two more homers in a 12-7 loss at Target Field, tying the Twins’ club record with his sixth multi-homer game of the season. He had also singled in the first and third innings, good for the 17th four-hit game of his career, and third this season.
“For most players, a night like tonight is the night of the year,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “And for him, it seems like it’s just another day for him. He’s been completely locked in and he’s been taking great swings.”
Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew had been the only other player in Twins history with six multi-homer games in a season, a feat he accomplished when he led the Major Leagues and set the franchise single-season record with 49 homers in his 1964 campaign.
Cruz’s pair of singles were the Twins’ only hits against Foltynewicz until the sixth inning, when Cruz finally got Minnesota on the board by smacking a fastball a projected 429 feet, according to Statcast, into left-center field. One frame later, he got a hold of another fastball from reliever Sean Newcomb and sent it 421 feet into the Twins’ bullpen.
The veteran DH has now clubbed 16 homers in 24 games since the All-Star break, by far the best mark in the Majors. This second half has already seen Cruz become the only player in Twins history to record multiple three-homer games in a season -- in fact, the games only came nine days apart -- and move into a tie for the club’s most five-RBI games in a season (four).
Given how long Cruz has been in the Majors, his run of success -- among the best of his 15-year-career -- hasn’t exactly sent the slugger into a frenzy.
“Nelly’s the same pretty much every day,” Baldelli said. “You might get a little smirk from him or something like that after his second home run. He’s done that numerous times already. He’s just out there having fun.”
“I just make sure I swing at strikes,” Cruz said. “That's the thing with any hitter. The ball's traveling a little bit more than normal, and you wait for mistakes."
Along the way, Cruz has continued his steady climb up MLB’s all-time home run leaderboard, passing Graig Nettles to move into sole possession of 62nd place. Cruz is now nine shy of becoming the 57th member of the 400-homer club.
"Definitely, it's a big deal, but I don't go up there and try to look at who I'm passing,” Cruz said. “I haven't seen any. I only see it when they put it on the scoreboard or something like that. I don't go after anyone. Like I said before, I just focus on a daily basis, working to help my team win games."
Cruz did get a shot at another three-homer game in the ninth inning, but he grounded out to shortstop to finish 4-for-5. With another jack, he would have joined Sammy Sosa as the only players in Major League history with a trio of three-homer games in a season.
Cruz is now hitting .300/.389/.662 and slugging an otherworldly .964 since the break. Of course, he’s enjoying the home runs, but the high batting average -- on pace for his best since he hit .302 in 2015 -- is also meaningful to him.
“It means that I'm spraying the ball all over the field,” Cruz said. “If I don't get the big homer, I can drive in runs and just get on base for my teammates to drive me in."
The late power surge from Cruz, Mitch Garver and Eddie Rosario helped the Twins close the gap considerably after starter Jose Berrios was tagged for a career-high nine earned runs in one of the worst starts of his career, which snapped a streak of 12 consecutive starts of allowing three or fewer earned runs.
"The only thing I want to remember is the home runs we hit and how we tried to battle back,” Berrios said. “On my end, I just want to forget about it and move forward, and tomorrow's another day."