By Will Burchfield
When Tigers fans have nightmares, it’s Nelson Cruz they see.
The former Orioles and Rangers slugger has tormented the Tigers in the past, particularly in the playoffs. In nine postseason games against Detroit, Cruz has eight – eight – home runs.
“I don’t know,” Cruz said, trying to explain it. “It’s just, for some reason I start hitting good when I face them. It’s part of the game.”
The Tigers will have to deal with it this week. Cruz, now a member of the Mariners, is back in town for a three-game series that began Tuesday night.
“Good memories come back when you come here. Like I said, it’s just part of the game, you can’t figure it out. Baseball is crazy. But I’m always happy to come play against the Tigers,” Cruz said with a grin.
To be fair, Cruz’s reputation as a Tigers killer has been bred mostly in the playoffs and mostly away from Comerica Park. But he’s burned this ball club in so many big spots the pain won’t go away.
In Game 2 of the 2011 ALCS with the Rangers, Cruz hit a game-tying homer off Max Scherzer in the bottom of the seventh inning and then blasted a walk-off grand slam four innings later. In Game 3, he smacked a three-run bomb off Jose Valverde in the top of the 11th to clinch the Rangers’ 7-3 win. The Rangers won the series 4-2, and Cruz, the MVP, hit .364 with six home runs and 13 RBI.
In Game 1 of the 2014 ALDS with the Orioles, Cruz touched up Scherzer (again) for a two-run homer in the first inning, sparking Baltimore to a 12-3 win. In Game 3, with the Tigers on the ropes, he delivered the deciding blow, a go-ahead two-run bomb off David Price in the top of the sixth. The Orioles swept the series and Cruz hit .500 with two home runs and five RBI.
“I mean, numbers are numbers,” Cruz said. “You cannot always focus on those more than the result. The win is what we play for, and like you mentioned, those games we were able to win.”
Cruz said most baseball players are aware of the teams against whom they have had success.
“You know you do good, but you don’t know how good you do. You don’t want to pay attention to the stats. Definitely you want to focus on the positive stuff and the teams that you do well against, but like I said, you make sure you always stay in the present,” he said.
For the Tigers, anything but the past would be fine.