SEATTLE -- Nelson Cruz has insisted all year that numbers are just numbers, especially when it comes to home runs.
But after Saturday's game, in which Cruz launched a two-run homer in the seventh to nail down a 7-2 victory for the Mariners, the 35-year-old slugger was able to reflect on his improvement. The 402-foot blast to left-center gave Cruz a career-high 41 home runs in just 134 games this season after he set his previous career high, 40, in 159 games in 2014.
"You want to get better and you work in the offseason to get better and try to help your team to get better also," Cruz said. "When you accomplish bigger numbers than the year before they are important and they matter. It makes you work harder to be better. That's my goal for next year."
To many, Cruz's uptick this season has come as a surprise, as Safeco Field hasn't been known has a hitter-friendly ballpark. But Cruz has defied that logic, hitting 15 of his 41 home runs -- and each of his last five -- in Seattle.
"You don't really care what other people think, do you?" said Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon with a laugh. "He's pretty special. Listen, he makes any ballpark look small. His approach and the ability to hit the ball from line to line makes him very dangerous."
Cruz also produced a run in the second with a single, poking a 2-1 sinker through the left side to score Kyle Seager from second and give the Mariners a 2-0 lead. He nearly added another two RBIs in the fourth, lining a 93 mph fastball from Rockies reliever David Hale deep to right for what looked like extra bases, but Colorado right fielder Carlos Gonzalez made a full-extension grab to rob Cruz of a hit and end the inning.
"I didn't see it because it went into the lights so I didn't see where the ball was," Cruz said. "It was a good play."
Cruz's play since the All-Star break, which has included 20 home runs -- the most by a Mariners player since Richie Sexson's 21 second-half blasts in 2005 -- has put him within reach of a second straight Major League home run title, as he is now tied with the Orioles' Chris Davis for the league lead.
The slugger said another title would be nice but that it mattered less than continuing to produce for a Mariners club that is six games out of the second American League Wild Card slot and 12-6 in its last 18 games.
"If it happens, it happens. It's not like the end of the world. The most important thing is to win games and hopefully we can do something," Cruz said. "It's difficult but we have a shot. It's not done, we're not done yet, but like I said, we have a pretty good team right now."
Andrew Erickson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.