Ex-Ranger Cruz key in win for Orioles

Baltimore Orioles' Nelson Cruz celebrates at the plate after he hit a three-run home run in the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers.

Sharon Ellman/AP

ARLINGTON, Texas – The reminder came in the form of a 404-foot three-run blast into the back portion of the left-field seats at Globe Life Park. Rangers fans had watched Nelson Cruz end Game 2 of the 2011 A.L.C.S. with a grand slam somewhere in that vicinity.

The real surprise with his remarkable start to the 2014 season (21 HRs, 55 RBI) is that everyone seems so surprised. Isn’t this the same Nelson Cruz who could carry the Rangers’ offense for weeks at a time? He should’ve never been allowed to have a career season with another organization. Not at this price.

The Rangers had given up on Cruz early in his career, but thankfully no other teams were interested when they put him on waivers before the start of the 2008 season. General manager Jon Daniels decided to go with Jason Botts over Cruz at the time. And that move was actually defensible at the time.

Cruz would become a huge part of those back-to-back World Series teams, but too many people fixate on his misplay of a fly ball in the ninth inning of Game 6 in 2011 against the Cardinals.

On Monday at Globe Life Park, Cruz received a warm welcome from Rangers fans. What sounded like scattered boos were actually fans saying, "Cruuuuuuz." His 50-game suspension for being caught in the Biogenesis scandal certainly played a role in the Rangers’ September collapse, but it shouldn’t overshadow all his accomplishments for the organization.

Cruz almost pulled himself from Monday’s game before his plate appearance in the eighth because of leg cramps. That would’ve made life so much easier on Rangers reliever Shawn Tolleson, who gave up the homer on the first pitch he delivered. Cruz blamed his slow trot on the cramps, although it looked like he may have been savoring the moment.

"It was cramping the whole time," he said with a big grin.

Cruz said he tried to visit with Rangers manager Ron Washington and some of his former teammates before the game, but they were in a meeting. He said that even his walk to the plate in the first inning felt completely foreign because he was leaving the visitor’s dugout. When I asked him if he had any regrets about not appealing last season’s suspension, Cruz paused for a couple seconds.

Before the game, he had indicated that he didn’t have any regrets over how things had transpired. After pausing, Cruz said he felt "blessed" to be with the Orioles. My follow-up question was interrupted by an Orioles official who informed me that it was only appropriate to ask questions about what occurred during Monday’s game.

Maybe I should let the past be the past, but it’s a little difficult when it’s obvious how much Cruz could’ve helped the Rangers. This team has the second-fewest home runs in the American League (37) despite an outburst of solo blasts from Adrian Beltre and (who else?) Robinson Chirinos on Monday.

The Rangers mistakenly decided they had enough power with the addition of Prince Fielder to compensate for losing Cruz. They effectively closed the books on Cruz after signing Shin Soo-Choo to play left field. But it was obvious heading into spring training that Mitch Moreland wasn’t the full-time answer as a designated hitter.

Cruz rejected the Rangers’ one-year qualifying offer for $14.1 million in November. At the time, he was hoping for a contract in the four-year, $75 million range. The Rangers came back and made a two-year offer, but it was considerably lower than what Cruz was expecting. When the market for Cruz never materialized, the Orioles signed him to the one-year deal at the start of spring training. With their deep knowledge of Cruz, the Rangers should’ve upped the ante.

Yes, it was important to Cruz that he played at least part-time in the outfield because he didn’t want to diminish his future market value. The Rangers didn’t have a spot in the outfield for Cruz, but surely he would’ve embraced the DH role had the Rangers offered something in the $12 million range.

I asked Jon Daniels on 103.3 FM ESPN on Monday how much Cruz’s decision not to appeal the suspension impacted last winter’s negotiation. The Rangers had been led to believe Cruz would fight the suspension in order to play out the season. Daniels said Cruz’s decision didn’t play a big role in the negotiations. And while that’s probably true, it may have caused the Rangers to lean toward in-house candidates at DH.

"We made the decision that we did to give our own guys an opportunity and keep the draft pick," Daniels said. "Nellie got a deal in Baltimore and is having a nice year."

Maybe the Rangers will land a future star with that 30th overall pick. But that’s not going to impact the 2014 season.

Cruz will continue to have a huge impact on this season. It’s just happening with the wrong team.