Cruz dueling ex-teammate Davis for HR title

Outfielder tied AL lead with 43rd dinger of season in Friday's loss

Cruz dueling ex-teammate Davis for HR title

ANAHEIM -- In a season of ups and downs for the Mariners, one thing has remained constant. Nelson Cruz keeps hammering homers.

Seattle's designated hitter clubbed his 43rd home run in Friday's 8-4 loss to the Angels, pulling him into a tie with Chris Davis of the Orioles for the Major League lead with 43 in a friendly rivalry with his former teammate.

"We're close, we're good friends," said Cruz, who played with Davis last year in Baltimore. "We talk, text. I'm happy for the success he's having. All my ex-teammates, I always pull for them. At the end, whatever it is, we take it."

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But Cruz wants to win the home run battle, without question.

"Of course," he said with his trademark grin. "But whatever it is, we'll be happy for it."

Cruz already has achieved a career high with three more homers than he hit last year when he led the Majors with 40 for the Orioles. If he wins the MLB home run title, he'll be just the second Mariner to pull that off, joining Ken Griffey Jr., who hit 56 in 1997.

He'd also be the first player to lead the Majors in home runs in back-to-back years for two different teams since Babe Ruth hit 29 for the Red Sox in 1919 and 54 for the Yankees in 1920.

Despite the Mariners' disappointing 74-80 record, Cruz refuses to take his foot off the gas, even with a gimpy right quad muscle that limits his running.

"I'm still thinking of October. That's the mindset you have to have," Cruz said. "Anything can happen. It's difficult. But we have to play for the fans, play for the city. Even when we have nothing to play for, we have to play for the fans."

With eight games remaining, Cruz has moved alone into seventh on the Mariners' single-season home run list, a chart dominated by Griffey, who hit a club record 56 in 1997 and then matched that total in 1998. He also hit 49 in 1996, 48 in '99 and 45 in '93.

The only non-Griffey ahead of Cruz is Jay Buhner, who slugged 44 homers in 1996.

The 35-year-old drove a 97-mph fastball from Garrett Richards over the fence in left-center in the first inning and finished the night 1-for-4 with a walk. He leads the Mariners not only in home runs, but batting average (.308) and RBIs (90) as well.

"He's been very consistent throughout the year," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Obviously, he's having a phenomenal year. He continues to grind it out and come up with big hits for us."

Without question, Cruz has been the Mariners best hitter all season, though the sore quad the last month that has limited him to DH duties. He doesn't think the sore leg has affected his swing, but it has been challenging ever since he sat out a week earlier in the month.

"I like to run hard to the bases. It's something that's taken my aggressiveness out, so I can't get infield hits or beat a double play," he said. "Part of me [feels it] is hard to be out there, especially when I'm on first to break up a double play, I don't even get close to get to second base. That's tough."

But Cruz has continued crushing the ball and now has 27 home runs on the road, a big reason why the Mariners lead the Majors in road homers at 106. Yoenis Cespedes has 25 road homers for the Tigers and Mets, the only other player in the Majors with more than 21.

His slugging percentage of .580 is second only to the .589 of the Angels' Mike Trout in the American League and his .308 batting average is fifth in the AL.

Greg Johns is a reporter for 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.