WASHINGTON — Smokey Robinson’s melodic classic “Cruisin’” filled the skies above Nationals Park on Sunday afternoon.
On the field, Nelson Cruz had belted his 450th career home run — and first as a member of the Nats — off Mets starter Carlos Carrasco in the opening inning to further his ascent on the Major League leaderboards.
Seven frames later, Cruz traded power for precision when he delivered Washington’s inaugural win of the season with a tie-breaking, two-run single into left-center field against Trevor Williams to lift his new team to a 4-2 victory over the Mets.
“It was beautiful,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He hits the home run, he stays inside a ball with two strikes, hits a ball up the middle, two big runs for us there.”
Three Nationals batters into the game, Cruz rocked a 92.7 mph sinker from Carrasco 403 feet into center field at 109 mph off the bat. Already ranked third among active players in home runs, Cruz passed Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Vladimir Guerrero for 40th place on the all-time list. He is only two dingers away from tying the great Carl Yastrzemski (452) at No. 39. Cruz described the milestone as “special.”
“He’s really good,” said Carrasco, who has allowed five home runs to Cruz. “I’m pretty sure I’m in the book right there, that was his 450th homer. But it’s really impressive the way he takes care of himself, the way he works out and everything.”
Cruz signed with the Nats — his seventh team in 18 seasons — to bring leadership, offensive power and protection for Juan Soto in the batting order. He became one of just three players with 450 homers to have been a member of at least seven clubs, joining Gary Sheffield (509 home runs, eight teams) and Jose Canseco (462 home runs, seven teams).
The 41-year-old Cruz hit his first Major League home run in 2006 during his age-25 season. Sunday’s home run marked his 385th since turning 30 years old. He tied Jim Thome for fifth-most after his 30th birthday, and he trails only Barry Bonds (509), Babe Ruth (430), Rafael Palmeiro (414) and Henry Aaron (413).
One of the best sluggers on an international scale, as well, Cruz joined Albert Pujols, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Adrián Beltré as the only Dominican-born players with 450-plus homers.
“That’s a lot of homers,” Martinez said with a laugh. “I told him he could have 50 of mine to get to 500, if he wanted. But that’s incredible, it really is. It’s a testament to how good a hitter he really is, what he can do.”
Part of what makes Cruz such a talented player is just how much he can do at the plate. Martinez reiterated the value of his patient, two-strike approach to drive in Lucius Fox and César Hernández in the eighth, even though Cruz is capable of swinging for the fences in any given plate appearance. That’s the kind of example his teammates can learn from as they study his approach this season.
“You’re not going to hit homers every at-bat,” Cruz said. “So definitely you have to also feed off of singles and walks, get some productive outs if you get outs. That’s the beauty of the game.”
As the Nationals’ first homestand concluded with a victory, Cruz showed the crowd what they can expect from him in a curly ‘W’ uniform.
“You want to come through in front of your fans,” he said, “Especially in that situation.”