SEATTLE -- Three hours before Saturday night's game, Nelson Cruz was the last player still signing autographs for fans in a pregame access period for season-ticket holders at Safeco Field, long after his teammates headed out to the field to warm up. Then the big fella went out and put on a show -- on his first bobblehead night with the club, no less -- to help lift the Mariners to a 5-0 victory over the Angels.
Cruz has literally done it all for the Mariners in the first half of his first season since signing a four-year, $57 million deal. He went 3-for-3 with a double, a walk and three runs scored to lift his team-leading average to .311 and also made a big diving catch in Saturday's win.
Along with his 21 home runs and 53 RBIs, the Mariners have gotten everything they could hope for from the 34-year-old slugger. But he's proving to be stellar off the field as well, and his interaction with fans before the game was just another part of what he's brought to Seattle.
"It was a huge crowd and the best I've seen here," he said of the atmosphere brought by the 40,765 in attendance. "I signed a lot of bobbleheads ... almost an hour signing autographs."
For Cruz, it was a chance to show his appreciation for the public support in being voted in as the starting designated hitter in Tuesday's All-Star Game presented by T-Mobile.
"As a player, we have to appreciate the fans," he said. "They're the ones who elect you. For me, it's important to let them know I appreciate all the effort they made, especially taking me to the All-Stars. To come every day to the ballpark, we play for them."
Cruz, who had several unopened cases of bobbleheads at his locker postgame, said he enjoyed performing well on his special night. And while the offense has come to be expected, he added another dimension with the diving catch in right field in the top of the first inning to rob David Freese of a likely three-run double with two outs.
Instead, Cruz's catch got Hisashi Iwakuma out of a bases-loaded jam unscathed and Iwakuma went on to throw eight scoreless innings for his first win in an injury-plagued season.
"That was huge, especially for Iwakuma," Cruz said. "After that, he just dominated. It definitely changed the momentum."
Cruz, who'll be joined by ace Felix Hernandez at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati, has certainly done his part in an otherwise difficult first half for the Mariners.
"From an offensive standpoint, he's been tremendous for us," manager Lloyd McClendon said of Cruz. "I'm not sure where we'd be without him. And he continues to get better. The hits he had tonight showed what he's capable of doing. Not just hitting home runs, he drove the ball the other way, doubled in the gap. Pretty nice night."