OAKLAND -- When the Mariners acquired Nelson Cruz last winter, they had one thing in mind. A big, right-handed power hitter to stick in the middle of their lineup and be a game-changer. And Cruz changed a game for the first time Saturday with a three-run blast in the eighth inning of a contest in which the Mariners came back twice to win, 5-4, in 11 innings.
At the time, Cruz was hitting .111 (2-for-18) and had yet to drive in a run in the first five games of his Seattle tenure. But that changed -- along with the tenor of another tough offensive day -- when the 34-year-old unloaded into the left-field seats off A's reliever Dan Otero.
A little relief for the big fella to put his first home run on the board for his new club?
"No doubt," Cruz said. "You always want to be in that situation. And when you deliver, it feels pretty good. It was nice to get it going."
Cruz's clout resonated through the Mariners' dugout. Seattle had been shut out twice in its first four games and was trailing 2-1 in the eighth when Austin Jackson singled and Justin Ruggiano followed with a comebacker to pitcher Eric O'Flaherty. Manager Lloyd McClendon challenged the out call at second when O'Flaherty threw to shortstop Marcus Semien, and replay review reversed the decision, since the throw took Semien off the bag.
Given extra life, Cruz came up with two outs and crunched a 1-1 fastball that seemed to still be rising as it sailed over the fence.
"That was sweet," said shortstop Brad Miller. "That ball was launched. He's been having some good at-bats, and he sprayed a couple the other way today. But he got that one. That was a lot of fun, in a huge situation."
The A's could have walked Cruz with runners on second and third, but chose to go with the right-handed Otero against last year's Major League home run leader rather than bringing in a lefty to face Kyle Seager.
"I knew first base was open, and I told [catcher Josh] Phegley we were just going to try to throw balls, make [Cruz] hit a ball," Otero said. "I made two decent pitches to get it to 1-1 and then tried to come in 1-1, which is kind of what I like to do. It just stayed there, it didn't really move in. It wasn't a terrible pitch, but it just stayed there, and he was obviously looking for it."
Cruz wound up 3-for-5 on the day to lift his early average to .200.
"I feel like I was getting on top of the ball better," Cruz said. "Hopefully, I can keep that swing for the next few days."
That would be just fine with his skipper.
"It's nice to get those three-run home runs," said McClendon. "They make me look real smart."
And they make the Mariners look more like a team capable of contending in the American League West.
"It's early," said Cruz. "You always want to start the right way. But the good thing, we know we're capable of doing it. Hopefully this is a good start and we can do what were supposed to do."