Nelson Cruz isn’t just a power guy. Turns out he’s a speed guy, too.
Well, maybe not.
He won’t be beating Byron Buxton in any footraces anytime soon — though he did tell his speedy teammate recently that he looked faster than him — but Cruz’s wheels and the Twins’ defense did help guide the Twins to a 3-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday afternoon in the series finale at Comerica Park.
With two outs in the sixth inning, Cruz smacked a ball toward shortstop Willi Castro. The ball deflected off Castro’s glove and toward second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who threw to first. Cruz, hustling down the line, beat the throw by a step but was called out.
“I saw that I was safe,” Cruz said. “It was clearly safe, yeah. I had a pretty good view of when he caught it and when I hit the base.”
A replay review confirmed Cruz’s belief, keeping the inning alive for Jorge Polanco, who then doubled home the tying and go-ahead runs — one of which was Cruz, who cranked up his speed to beat out a throw home.
“We’re gonna need our guys to leg some bases out for us, and stay out of double plays, and get some infield knocks and things like that,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It keeps some innings going and scores some runs. It’s huge. He works his tail off every day.”
Cruz’s trip around the bases got the Twins’ (4-2) dugout going, and what came next surely did, too.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Twins’ defense did everything it could to protect the team’s slim lead, even as starter Kenta Maeda ran into trouble. The first four Tigers (3-3) batters reached — on a single, double, walk and another single — and yet, none scored.
Left fielder Jake Cave and shortstop Andrelton Simmons combined to throw Castro out at the plate on Miguel Cabrera’s double, and later in the inning, the Tigers sent Cabrera home on a Schoop flyout but Kyle Garlick’s throw arrived to Mitch Garver at the plate well before Cabrera did.
“These are game-winning plays, and we had to make a few of them,” Baldelli said.
And they did so for a thankful starter. Maeda said he felt relief watching those two plays — and his defense behind him hadn’t done that, he doesn’t think the Twins would have come away with a win on Wednesday.
Maeda said in terms of mechanics, he felt things were smoother for him than Opening Day, though there are still some areas he feels he needs to polish up. The righty gave up an RBI triple to Akil Baddoo in the second inning and a solo home run to Wilson Ramos in the fifth, but had otherwise avoided most trouble until the sixth, at one point sending down 10 of 11 batters.
“I think Kenta had to work again a little bit to get through his outing,” Baldelli said. “…He continued to put us in a spot to win a ballgame in a very tight, close ballgame.”
His outing ended after the shaky sixth inning, at which point the Twins turned the ball over to Hansel Robles for a scoreless seventh and Alexander Colomé for a two-inning save, coming in to protect a lead established in part by Cruz’s speed.
“I had to show off all my tools this series,” Cruz, who hit three home runs in the series, joked. “That was the last one that I needed to show.”