One of the more memorable moments of the Mariners’ 2016 season came on Sept. 25 in Minnesota when Nelson Cruz hammered his 40th and 41st homers of the season, the latter of which came exactly one pitch after an awkward swing that caused noticeable pain in his wrist (see video above).
The Mariners were in the middle of a playoff race at that point, and with seven games to go in the regular season, they couldn’t afford to have their biggest power threat out of the lineup. So Cruz continued to play, something he told “Brock and Salk” on Friday (audio here) that anybody would have done in the same situation.
“I think everybody plays through pain. One thing is playing through pain, the other thing is playing through injuries. In that moment, it was injury,” Cruz said. “But the situation we were in as a team, I cannot take the chance to go out of the game. If we were in a different situation, definitely have to leave that game and don’t play, I guess, the rest of the season. Any situation is different, and you have to deal with it. I was fortunate enough to keep playing and … help my team win games, and that’s what it’s all about. I don’t think it gets any better, late in the season, you in the race, you want to help your team win games. I don’t think the pain is gonna dictate what you’re doing.”
That wrist issue is long gone for Cruz, but the memory of Seattle’s failed run at the postseason lingers. Now 36, Cruz is expected to be the Mariners’ designated hitter even more than before – he played 107 as the DH in 2015 and 48 in right field – which he is fully prepared to do if it means it gives the M’s a better shot at ending their playoff drought.
“I love to play in the outfield, that’s my passion to be out there every day,” Cruz said. “I know my role and … (whatever they need me to do), I’d be happy to do. I just want to win games and I want to be in the World Series. That’s the goal.”
Making the World Series seems to be an even more realistic goal in 2017 than in Cruz’s first two seasons with the Mariners. He definitely believes this team has all the pieces to get over the hump.
“Yes, we have enough to get it done. We have a great lineup, better than what we had last year, and the bullpen is electric.”
After getting a taste of what the playoffs can feel like in last year’s race that went down to the final two days of the season, nobody would accuse the Mariners of lacking the hunger to win in 2017. Cruz is seeing it, and experiencing it, first-hand.
“We had that experience of the playoffs, every game we played was important because it was so many games involved, so many teams involved, so every game was really important,” said Cruz, who went to two World Series with the Texas Rangers and won the 2011 American League Championship Series MVP award. “It was like playoff atmosphere, especially the games that we lost against Oakland. It was electric, you know? I mean, you feel the fans. Especially the guys that haven’t been there, haven’t been to the playoffs, to be able to experience that I think is a boost, and everybody’s more excited this year. Everybody comes with that mentality.
“Whatever it takes, like we say. Whatever it takes to get it done.”