Nelson Cruz is a man of his word.
Twice before the season started, Cruz told team officials he planned to reach 400 home runs this season. The second time came during spring training, when he initiated a conversation with baseball communication director Dustin Morse about ways he could raise funds for charities off reaching 400.
When informed that would require him to hit 40 home runs, the then-38-year-old Cruz nodded and said, “Yes.”
Despite two trips to the injured list because of left wrist problems, Cruz’s actions have backed up his statements. His 40th home run of the season — and 400th of his career — helped the Twins down Kansas City 12-8 on Sunday for their third victory in the four-game series.
“Very special,” said Cruz, the 57th member of the 400 club. “It’s good to put that behind me so I don’t get that question anymore. It’s definitely a good one. It’s nice to do it in front of the fans. I think they deserve it. They’ve been such a big influence for us as a team. They come up every day with that energy.”
It highlighted an afternoon in which the Twins reduced their magic number for clinching the AL Central title to three. Miguel Sano was 2-for-4 with two home runs and four RBI; Eddie Rosario was 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBI, and Marwin Gonzalez was 2-for-4 with three RBI.
The Twins took a 6-0 lead in the first inning, but the Royals scored five over the next two innings while knocking Twins lefthander Martin Perez out of the game.
It was 7-6 in the fourth when Cruz dug in against reliever Gabe Speier.
Speier centered a 93.7-miles-per-hour fastball, and Cruz feasted on it, driving it into the second deck in right. The crowd erupted as the 421-foot blast disappeared.
“He’s Superman,” catcher Mitch Garver said. “He does a good job. He just puts up consistent at-bats. You always expect a quality at-bat or hard contact. That’s all you can ask out of a guy, really, just go out there and compete and give the pitcher a hard time trying to throw strikes and make them pay if they do. That’s what he does, and that’s what he does well.”
Cruz pointed toward his parents in the stands as he crossed home plate. Sano, Rosario and Gonzalez were at the top steps of the dugout to congratulate him. And, after a few moments in the dugout, he popped out to tip his hat as fans cheered for a curtain call.
“Great moment for everybody,” Sano said. “More for his family and the team. I was really excited about it because that guy works so hard every day. He comes here, he just thinks about work and plays the game.”
The fan who caught the ball was given a Boomstick, the foot-long hot dog with Cruz’s nickname attached to it. After the game he met Cruz and received an autographed bat and ball.
The Twins led 8-6 after Cruz’s milestone homer and never trailed, getting a pair of runs in the seventh and eighth before Kansas City scored twice in the ninth.
There was a second pledge Cruz, who reached 40 home runs for the first time since 2016, made to the Twins before the season: He told them he would help them reach the playoffs.
Cruz said that takes a core of young players who believe. That pledge is about to come true, too.
“We are a good example,” he said. “Guys that click like you’ve seen this year, and hopefully guys that are expecting to put up good numbers. I think they’re all having the best times of their career, numbers-wise, and it takes everyone in here to do good to be where we’re at right now.”