ANAHEIM, Calif. — Nelson Cruz continued working on an encore Monday night after getting selected earlier in the day as the American League Player of the Month for April.
Cruz broke open a scoreless game with a leadoff homer in the seventh inning and ignited a three-boom barrage that carried the Mariners to a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium.
“Nellie’s been on a roll,” said Felix Hernandez, who limited the Angels to one run in seven innings. “He’s doing everything. He’s a great player. All around. I’m happy he’s on our side.”
Logan Morrison and Seth Smith also hit homers as the Mariners rebounded behind Hernandez (5-0) from a disastrous four-game weekend sweep in Houston.
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Hernandez muzzled the Angels until his teammates found the range on Angels starter Matt Shoemaker.
“That’s a true No. 1,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “That’s what they’re built for. That’s what they’re made for. He certainly did a (heck) of a job for us tonight.”
Carson Smith inherited a 3-1 lead to start the eighth inning and, after yielding a one-out infield single, to Erick Aybar, faced the teeth of the Angels’ lineup.
Mike Trout hit a fielder’s-choice grounder to first that resulted in a force at second. Albert Pujols hit a routine grounder to short. It was a quick bounce back for Smith after giving up a game-winning homer in Sunday’s loss.
“It was good not to sit on that one too long,” Smith said. “Lloyd gave me an opportunity today to go in there and get some key outs. It was nice to go out there and get the job done.”
Fernando Rodney gave up a one-out homer in the ninth to David Freese but caught the Angels by surprise after issuing a two-out walk to Matt Joyce, which brought Collin Cowgill into the game as a pinch-runner.
Cowgill tried to steal second on the first pitch, but Rodney, who is normally slow to the plate, switched to a slide-step delivery, which provided Mike Zunino with plenty of time to make an accurate throw for the out.
“Every time now,” Rodney said, eyes twinkling, “when we need it.”
The Mariners had just one hit, a single, through six innings against Shoemaker (2-2) before Cruz rocked a 1-2 changeup for a leadoff homer and a 1-0 lead.
Cruz has four homers in four May games and 14 overall, which leads the majors. He also now shares a bit of history.
Only four other players have hit 14 homers in their club’s first 26 games: Cy Williams (1923 Phillies), Mike Schmidt (1976 Phillies), Pujols (2006 Cardinals) and Alex Rodriguez (2007 Yankees).
Nobody has ever hit 15 in the first 27 games.
“I’m finding a way to stay more consistent,” Cruz said. “That’s they key. I’m trying to find a way to get it done every day. I’ve been able to do it for a long period of time now.”
Cruz’s blast was just the start.
Shoemaker tried another changeup on a 1-0 count to Morrison with one out — with the same result. Morrison drove the ball (VIDEO LINK) into the right-field seats for his fourth homer and a 2-0 lead.
And here’s the twist: Morrison was using one of Cruz’s bats. He’s been doing that for six games now, and Morrison is 10-for-23 in that stretch with three homers.
“I’ve got a boomstick,” he said. “I started using that for the four-hit game in Texas. I thought, `Well, I guess I’m going to be using this for the rest of the year.’”
Maybe Cruz should start distributing bats to other teammates.
Hernandez’s one hiccup occurred when he couldn’t follow up that two-run burst with a shutdown inning. He retired the first two hitters in the seventh but gave up a homer to Joyce that closed the gap to 2-1.
No matter. The Mariners got that run back when Seth Smith crushed a one-out homer in the eighth inning. That finished Shoemaker, who matched a career-best with 10 strikeouts and only permitted four hits.
But three of the four left the yard.
Hernandez notched an individual achievement by getting two strikeouts in the first inning in moving ahead of Johan Santana as the all-time leader among Venezuelan-born players.
“A guy like that?” Hernandez said. “It’s an honor. He’s one of the great lefties in the game.”
Hernandez added six more in boosting his career total to 1,995. Santana has 1,989 as he recovers from shoulder surgery on Toronto’s disabled list.
“I had good stuff,” Hernandez said. “I was throwing a lot of strikes. I felt strong today…We scored enough runs to win a game.”
What else matters?