Come on, this was never supposed to happen. And then even when it did, it wasn’t supposed to last.
Luis Cruz was a nice little story. A good kid buried in the minors for 11 years, making stops in the Mexican League, close to walking away but finding the will to keep at it.
Then he finally gets an unexpected chance when utility player Jerry Hairston Jr. is injured and lost for the year, and Cruz just takes off. That was so nice, though you simply waited for Cruz to burn out, for opposing pitchers to figure him out, for reality to come crashing down. This month’s Elian Herrera.
Only over two months later, Cruz is still going. Going as well or better than ever. So well that Friday night he lifted the Dodgers out of the doldrums with a stunning three-run homer that led to an 8-5 victory.
The crowd, which has taken to Cruz since he first arrived July 2, sent out its call: “Cruuuuuz.”
He emerged ever so briefly at the top of the steps for his first major-league curtain call, looking almost embarrassed.
“I wasn’t sure how to do it,” Cruz said.
He said that the only other time he’d ever been called back for a curtain call was while playing in Mexico.
“But this is better,” he said.
Cruz finished the night with a career-high four RBIs, having driven in the Dodgers’ first run with a groundout in the second. Over the past month, he is batting .359 (39 for 110 since Aug. 13).
“I think he’s been one of those guys on this team that nobody really talks about, yet he’s come up with big hit after bit hit and played great defense,” said left-fielder Shane Victorino. “To me, right now he’s possibly one of the better players on the team, playing consistently at a high level.”
Cruz is as happy and appreciative as he can be. It’s obvious he’s living his dream, the glee almost pours out of him.
“Sometimes when you’re in the minor leagues, you get frustrated, but I never quit,” he said. “I always thought I could play here. And my dad and my family supported me all the time. And I’m here and very happy.”
If he finishes off the season at his current pace, he’s going to force the Dodgers into a difficult choice next year. Dee Gordon is the team’s designated shortstop of the future, and the plan had been that when he returned, Gordon would be go back to short and Hanley Ramirez to third.
Only when Gordon came back last week from his injured thumb, there was no way the Dodgers were going to sit the hot-hitting Cruz. So Gordon has become a pinch runner, with Cruz still ensconced at third.
What to do next season if Cruz keeps it going? Could the Dodgers really bench him?
Despite all the big and expensive names throughout the Dodgers’ roster, Cruz has become a Dodger Stadium favorite. It’s his name they call out.
“I don’t know, they’ve just been on my side for the two months I’ve been here,” Cruz said.
“Maybe it’s [my story], but there are a lot of Mexican people here and a lot of Mexicans played here before. I don’t know, I just feel good here. Hopefully I can stay here for awhile.”