ARLINGTON, Texas -- Nelson Cruz didn't know what type of reception he'd receive from the fans when he returned to the Texas Rangers' lineup Monday night. Turns out, the Rangers Ballpark crowd was more than forgiving and happy to see the fresh-off-suspension slugger back in uniform.
Cruz received a rousing ovation from the announced crowd of 42,796 during his first at-bat, but didn't spark the offense like he or the team had hoped.
"Hopefully I can do something good for the team," Cruz said beforehand. "I feel good. I feel really confident. I've been preparing for this so I should be ready."
Cruz, though, went 0 for 4 and grounded to shortstop for the final out as the Tampa Bay Rays secured a 5-2 victory in a tiebreaking game for the second American League wild card.
Cruz returned after serving a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs, a ban he accepted when MLB presented him with its evidence of his ties in the Biogenesis of America scandal.
The ban went through the end of the regular season, which made him eligible for Game 163. The Rangers -- from front-office personnel to his teammates -- supported his return, and the Rays had no issues with it, either.
"I have nothing to do with that," Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. "My job is to get our guys ready to play today. He served his punishment."
Said Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist: "That's up to the league to decide that stuff. We've played plenty of games with him in the lineup and we know how to face him. We believe we can win whether he's on the field or not."
That proved to be true in the end.
Cruz saw a decent number of pitches in each of his at-bats, but that was the only bright spot. His first at-bat came in the second inning with a runner on second and one out, but he lined out to first base on the sixth pitch.
Cruz then grounded out on a changeup to start the fifth, struck out on six pitches to start the seventh and grounded out to end the game in the ninth. That may have been Cruz's last at-bat with the Rangers, too, as the 33-year-old outfielder is set to hit the free agent market.
Cruz wasn't immediately available for comment after the game, but spoke before it with excitement to be back.
Cruz retold the conversation he had with manager Ron Washington prior to the lineups being announced, saying he assured his manager that he was "loose" and ready for the game.
Cruz led the team in home runs and RBIs at the time of his suspension and was batting sixth as the designated hitter Monday. He spent some of his suspension working out and playing instructional-league games at the Rangers' facility in Arizona to stay in shape.
Cruz, like the rest of the Rangers, had a history of success against Rays starter David Price, too. Cruz was 9 for 21 with three homers in the regular season and playoffs against Price, but that track record didn't help him lock back in after a long layoff against the reigning AL Cy Young winner.
While the night didn't go as well as Cruz or the Rangers wanted, Cruz expressed an interest in spreading his story to younger players so they don't make the same mistakes and go through an untimely suspension.
"Know who to trust," Cruz said of what he's been telling younger players. "Hopefully, I can give my message to more kids. I can help more kids not make the same mistake that I made."
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