Rays’ Nelson Cruz returns to Minnesota to face Twins

MLB

The Minnesota Twins will celebrate the 30th anniversary of their last World Series victory this weekend when they host the American League East-leading Tampa Bay Rays in a three-game series.

More than 25 players, coaches and staff — including Game 7 hero and Hall of Famer Jack Morris, Kent Hrbek, Chili Davis and Rick Aguilera — will be on hand to commemorate the Twins’ dramatic seven-game, worst-to-first title in 1991 over the Atlanta Braves.

Sharing the spotlight will be popular slugger Nelson Cruz, who will return to Target Field for the first time since his July 22 trade to Tampa Bay.

“I have a great relationship with those guys, so it’s going to be nice to see them,” Cruz said. “We won the (AL Central) division back-to-back years, so that definitely makes it special. Good fan base. The whole organization is just very first-class. Coaching staff’s very close with the players. Definitely a good 2 1/2 years.”

So good that the 41-year-old veteran left the door open to return to Minneapolis next season.

“Definitely,” said Cruz, who was traded along with Double-A pitcher Calvin Faucher for highly touted pitching prospects Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman. “This is part of my family. I’ve got a lot of friends that I love like family. The city. Everything that I’ve been through the last three years, it really touched me. … We’ll see what happens next year.”

Cruz, the 2020 Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award winner, hit .304 with 76 homers and 45 doubles in his two-plus seasons with Minnesota. He also served as a father figure to many of the younger Twins players, including Miguel Sano.

“He’s my dad,” Sano said. “He’s my guy and everything. And I hope he comes back next year to the Twins’ organization. I saw him cry, and I’m crying too when I saw him like that. He didn’t want to leave.”

Cruz was batting .294 with 19 homers and 50 RBIs at the time of the trade. He is hitting .188 with four home runs and 10 RBIs in 64 at-bats with the Rays and had a double off the Green Monster in the team’s 8-1 victory at Boston on Thursday.

Tampa Bay brings a five-game lead over the Red Sox to Target Field, and the Rays have won six of their past seven games. The only loss was 20-8 on Wednesday night in Boston, but the Rays bounced back to two-hit the Red Sox and capture the three-game series on Thursday.

“We’re looking for series wins,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. “We talk about (Wednesday) and how it got out of hand, but having all the confidence in the world, and for good reason, that these guys were going to come back and be ready to go, and they were. … These guys, they come to play, and they back that up daily.”

Left-hander Shane McClanahan (6-4, 3.75 ERA), who has 99 strikeouts in 84 innings, will pitch against the Twins for the first time in his career in the Friday night series opener. Veteran right-hander Michael Pineda (4-7, 3.83), who is 3-5 with a 4.31 ERA in 14 career starts against the Rays, will start for Minnesota.

–Field Level Media

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