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Must C Crushed: Cruz launches a three-run shot

ARLINGTON -- Welcome back, Nelson Cruz.

The Orioles' slugger, who dominated pregame headlines in making his return to Arlington, showed several hours later what's really stolen the show this season: that majestic swing. The Major League leader in home runs and RBIs, and reining American League Player of the Week, Cruz gave Rangers fans -- who greeted him with a thunderous ovation -- a front-row seat to what they missed out on when he opted for free agency this winter.

Cruz ambushed Rangers righty Shawn Tolleson's first-pitch fastball for a three-run homer -- his 21st of the season -- to seal a sixth-run eighth inning that granted the Orioles (29-27) a commanding 8-3 series-opening win. But Cruz, who exited Sunday's game after taking pitch off his left hand, almost didn't get a chance to hit.

"I was cramping since the fourth inning," said Cruz, who had to convince manager Buck Showalter he was OK from the on-deck circle. "It was bad. I wanted to take my last at-bat and hopefully get something going."

After all, the game was tied, 2-2, going into that inning and Cruz -- who has an incredible 55 RBIs on the season -- helped ensure that the Rangers organization with which he spent the previous eight seasons would come out on the losing end.

"That was a cramp trot," Showalter said of Cruz's slow spin around the bases. "I thought tonight he was real calm. He was real confident in terms of knowing what he's got to do. He didn't let them take him out of the strike zone."

The Orioles started their eighth-inning rally when designated hitter Delmon Young -- making his third start since May 17 -- delivered his second hit of the night, a one-out single against Rangers reliever Alexi Ogando. Ogando then hit Jonathan Schoop with a pitch and rookie catcher Caleb Joseph doubled in Young to give the O's the lead and himself the first multihit game of his career.

"It felt good to get another opportunity, kind of a redeemer," said Joseph, who stranded a pair of runners with a fourth-inning fly ball and made an adjustment in his stance prior to singling in the seventh. "It means a lot. I feel like I've been contributing defensively since I got here. It finally feels good to contribute offensively."

After Neal Cotts relieved Ogando, Nick Markakis and Manny Machado each followed with RBI singles to force Rangers manager Ron Washington to call on his fifth pitcher of the night in Tolleson.

Cruz put the game out of reach with a shot into the left-field seats, giving the O's their third consecutive win with the team's 16th hit of the night, which traveled an estimated 404 feet.

"He's swinging the bat well," Washington said of Cruz. "We have seen him do it before. We got him out all night, but when we needed to do it, we didn't get it done."

The Orioles, meanwhile, are starting to show signs of being the lethal lineup it was projected to be this spring. Bolstered by a four-hit night from Adam Jones, the O's totaled 17 hits in the series opener and have scored 21 runs over their last three games. But Tuesday didn't start so well, as the O's were kept in fits by Rangers lefty Joe Saunders.

"The guys were kind of frustrated early," Showalter said after watching Saunders allow 11 baserunners but just two runs over six innings. "There were six balls we hit hard. Manny, the worst ball he hit tonight is the one he got a base hit on. It's a process. Joe has always been good at minimizing the damage and keeping his team in the game, the way he can sink some balls with ground balls. He can frustrate you, but we finally got some big at-bats and got some people out there."

Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez worked up a high pitch count early and exited after 5 2/3 solid innings, holding the Rangers to just one run. Jimenez gave up four hits and four walks in the 101-pitch outing, striking out five.

"I felt fine," said Jimenez, who has gone fewer than six full innings in three of his last four starts. "I'm just in the same situation that I had before. I'm trying to get deeper in the game. I threw too many pitches the first four innings."

Tied at 1-1 in the sixth, the Orioles took the lead after Jones -- who homered to put the O's on the board in the fourth -- led off the inning with his third hit of the night. Chris Davis followed with a long single off the scoreboard and Jones, who was set to tag if the ball was caught, took second. The pair then moved up on J.J. Hardy's fly ball. Young drove Jones in with a one-out single.

Lefty Brian Matusz, who stranded a pair of Jimenez's runners in the sixth, gave up a leadoff homer to Robinson Chirinos in the seventh to tie the game at 2. After Matusz's 1 2/3 innings, Darren O'Day recorded the final two outs of the eighth and right-hander Preston Guilmet allowed a run in the ninth to cap Cruz's homecoming.

"It was kind of weird," Cruz said of coming back to Arlington in the visiting clubhouse on Tuesday afternoon. "It was kind of like one of my first days in the big leagues. Everything was going fast, but after the first at-bat, you try to stay in the moment and stay focused. The fans and the media. It was kind of quick."

But, in the end, a success as Cruz was once again a big part an Orioles victory.

"He's very honest when he says being ready to play today had nothing to do with who he's playing," Showalter said of Cruz. "I didn't realize he was with Oakland at one time. Guys change. It's worked out for him and he's tried to take the high road and he's getting a return for it."

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