Cruz is Mariners' Mr. Clutch with walk-off

Slugger delivers second game-ending hit of season to beat Red Sox

Cruz is Mariners' Mr. Clutch with walk-off

SEATTLE -- When the Mariners signed Nelson Cruz to a four-year, $57 million deal last December, they knew they were getting one of the game's better right-handed power bats. But what they've learned in the first six weeks of Cruz's first season in Seattle is about more than just big flies.

Cruz not only is leading the Majors in home runs again with his 15 bombs, he's proven to be an outstanding all-around hitter and Mr. Clutch when needed, and the 34-year-old came up with his second walk-off hit of the year in Friday's 2-1 victory over the Red Sox at Safeco Field.

Cruz leads the American League in batting average at .358 and his game-winning RBI put him into a tie for the AL lead in that category as well with 30. The big man has done it all for the Mariners in the early going, and he delivered again in dramatic fashion with a two-out drive to the gap against reliever Junichi Tazawa that scored Brad Miller from second base for the eighth walk-off hit of his career.

Cruz's walk-off single

Cruz is happy to call Seattle his new home and he's quickly earning hero status at Safeco Field, where the crowd erupted as his teammates mobbed him at first base after the winning hit.

"Great crowd, great atmosphere," Cruz said with a smile. "It was definitely a special day."

It wasn't so special until Cruz's magical moment as he struck out three times against starter Clay Buchholz and fouled a ball hard off his left shin in the fourth inning.

But in the ninth, Miller hustled out a one-out infield single on a grounder deep in the hole at short, moved to second on a groundout by Robinson Cano and then sprinted home when Cruz laced a 3-2 forkball from Tazawa into the left-center gap.

Cruz has yet to hit a slump this year and while he's only hit one home run in his past nine games, he's continued his torrid hitting with an eight-game streak during which he's batted .467.

"It seems for him this is kind of just what he does," said Seth Smith, who accounted for Seattle's other run with a sixth-inning homer. "This is the first time I've been his teammate, but he prepares himself and goes out there and it seems like he's just doing it. It's not like he's hot or this or that, he just gives a professional at-bat every time and looks good doing it."

McClendon on 2-1 win

Miller said the thing that's impressed him most is that both of Cruz's walk-off hits this year -- the other a single to beat the Rangers on April 19 -- came in games when he'd struck out two or three times in his previous at-bats.

"He'd had some tough at-bats and what does he do? He battles 'til the end," Miller said. "That last at-bat was amazing. For him to come up big, the game finds you. Both his walk-offs came in games where not everything had been going right for him, but he just fights. That's pretty cool for a young player to see a guy like that and how he stays in it."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB, read his Mariners Musings blog, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.