Ever since that fateful night in St. Louis 19 months ago, Nelson Cruz has made some folks squirm with his play in right field.
He’s not a Gold Glove winner and never will be, even though he has one of the strongest arms in the game. But on occasion he makes tracking a fly ball look more difficult than it needs to be.
But that wasn’t the case Wednesday afternoon at O.co Coliseum.
He had already done some heavy lifting with his bat, but Cruz’s diving grab on a Brandon Moss drive into the gap in right-center field in the sixth inning was the key play in the Texas Rangers’ 6-2 victory over Oakland.
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The Rangers won two of three games against their division rivals to finish their nine-game road trip at 6-3. The Rangers improved to a season-best 12 games above .500 at 26-14 and lead the American League West by seven games.
Cruz also swatted a homer in the fourth to account for the Rangers’ final three runs. But even the slugger liked his spectacular catch more than his 10th home run of the season.
“That’s routine, dude. What are you talking about?” Cruz joked before the Rangers hopped on their charter flight back to Texas. “It was a great catch in a great situation. It looked like they were coming back.”
Alexi Ogando (4-2) took a 6-0 lead and a no-hitter into the sixth but allowed a double to Eric Sogard to open the inning. Sogard scored two batters later on a sacrifice fly, but the A’s started another threat with two two-out singles.
Manager Ron Washington went to the mound to tell Ogando to trust his defense as Moss came to the plate. He drove the first pitch toward the gap in right-center, but Cruz ran and dived for the inning-ending out.
“It was an excellent play that helped me out so much,” Ogando said. “That’s what we needed.”
Cruz said that he works on his defense before every game. It’s part of his routine, and he takes pride in his defense.
But he knows fans moan and groan when a ball gets over his head or on the rare occasion when he drops a fly ball. Each happened in the same game at Milwaukee on May 7.
“People are always going to talk, but the only thing you can do is go out and play,” Cruz said. “It’s doesn’t matter what you do. There’s always going to be something.”
Said Washington: “He’s a very good outfielder as far as I’m concerned.”
Ogando pitched to one batter in the seventh, allowing a single to Josh Donaldson, before giving way to Michael Kirkman on a day when the Rangers’ bullpen was thinned out after a 10-inning victory Tuesday and at the end of the four-city road trip.
The A’s loaded the bases with one out against Kirkman, but he allowed only Donaldson to score on a sacrifice fly and got four more outs before Tanner Scheppers took over for the final two batters of the game.
The work the struggling left-hander provided didn’t go unnoticed.
“He meant everything,” Washington said. “We needed him to bridge that gap right there, and he did exactly what he needed him to do. He got those seven outs, and we were able to use Scheppers for only two.”
Lance Berkman got the Rangers going against Dan Straily, who ran into trouble with two outs in the third. He allowed a single to Leonys Martin and then hit Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus on consecutive pitches.
Berkman followed with a broken-bat single to center that plated the game’s first two runs.
The Rangers unloaded for four runs in the fifth, a rally that started with Andrus reaching on a one-out throwing error by shortstop Jed Lowrie. Andrus stole second, Berkman walked, and Andrus stole third before Adrian Beltre singled him home for a 3-0 lead.
Jesse Chavez relieved Straily, but Cruz swatted his first pitch over the wall in left-center field to make it 6-0.
He then altered the game with his spectacular defense two innings later.
“That was the biggest one he has made in a long time,” Washington said. “If that ball gets by him, there’s no telling what that game will end up being. It was a grand play. We needed it right there; Ogando needed it right there; and he made it. It saved the game for us.”