A Brief History of Nelson Cruz Humiliating the Detroit Tigers

On April 6, Minnesota Twins slugger Nelson Cruz added a new feather to his cap of many accomplishments: he became the king of the Tiger killers, those elite hitters who seem uniquely capable of besting Detroit Tigers pitching at every turn. After hitting all three of his 2021 home runs against the Tigers this past week, Cruz look the top spot among active players on the leaderboard of all-time home runs against the Motown team. With 26 regular season homers, he usurped the title previously held by Alex Gordon, and can rightfully claim his place as the biggest thorn in the Tigers’ paw.

For Tigers fans, the only surprising thing about this fact is that it hadn’t happened years earlier.

If you’re a fan of a team that has shared a division rivalry with the slugger, ask yourself: do you remember the first time your favorite team was personally victimized by Nelson Cruz? My first memory of having my hopes crushed by a Cruz home run is from Game 2 of the 2011 ALCS. The Tigers were vying for a rematch of their 2006 World Series rivalry against the St. Louis Cardinals, but one thing stood in their way: the Texas Rangers.

In Game 2, with the Tigers leading 3-2 and heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, a 31-year-old Cruz came to the plate against Max Scherzer. He absolutely crushed a home run to tie the game for the Rangers. It was a tie that would last for almost two and a half more hours. As the game headed into the 11th inning, Cruz came to the plate again with the bases loaded, this time against Ryan Perry. With the game on the line and the crowd restless, howling over every foul ball, Cruz obliterated an offering from Perry for a game-winning grand slam.

The first walk-off grand slam in MLB postseason history.

It’s a moment that, as the kids say, lives rent-free in my mind; I haven’t forgotten it in all my years watching Tigers baseball. It was also a moment that was echoed in the series opener between the Tigers and the Minnesota Twins this week, as Cruz proved he was still perfectly capable of hitting home runs against Tigers pitchers.

In the second inning of the April 5 game, Cruz hit a grand slam after just nearly missing one moments earlier. In the fifth inning, he added to the damage with a solo shot. The game ended with a comically mismatched 15-6 score.

Cruz hit his first home run against the Tigers on April 10, 2009 with a ninth-inning knock off of Eddie Bonine, and he has not stopped hitting them since. He seems to be all too aware of this as well, leaning into the mythos he’s established as the Tigers’ greatest foe.

What his early-season grand slam reminded Tigers fans (and perhaps all fans of teams that have had to play against Cruz) of is that age will not stop him from dashing all your hopes and dreams. At 40 years old, he is still just as capable of ripping the cover off a baseball as he was in 2014, when he hit two home runs in the Orioles ALDS sweep of the Tigers, the team’s last true postseason bid.

Other teams have reason to flinch when they hear the name Nelson Cruz. Just two years ago on July 25, 2019, he hit three home runs in a single game against the White Sox. That season he hit 41 round-trippers, showing he has no indication of slowing down; he currently sits at 420 career long balls, on the hunt to get to 500.

So in the name of celebrating the years of torment he has bestowed on Detroit, here are some of his best moments against them.

The records may show 26 in the regular season (you’ll note the variety of uniforms — imagine how many it would be if he’d been in their same division his whole career!), and another eight in postseason play, but it certainly feels like much more. I’ve spent much of my time as an adult baseball fan personally blaming Cruz for anything that has gone wrong for my team, whether he’s playing against them or not. Given his early-season performance, that seems unlikely to change any time soon.

Ashley has spent the last several years writing for various SB Nation sites, including Bless You Boys, DRaysBay, and Bleed Cubbie Blue. Her bylines have appeared here at Fangraphs; Hardball Times; BPro Short Relief and more. She hosts a baseball YouTube channel called 90 Feet From Home, and co-hosts the baseball podcast Who's On Worst.

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1 year ago

My most clear Nelson Cruz Kills The Tigers moment is him taking a 100 MPH Justin Verlander fastball and hitting it out to chase him from the game in the 8th inning of G5 of that 2011 ALCS, just because of how stunned the crowd is for a moment before then breaking into a thunderous roar as Verlander left the mound for the final time in 2011. Might be a weird one but of all the ones I’ve watched that’s the one that sticks out the most.