The Top 79 Cub Killers of My Time #40: “The” Juan “That Got Away” Cruz


It's not the years. It's the mileage.

Before Angel Guzman was around to tempt Cubs fans with his seemingly-limitless potential and seemingly-glass musculoskeletal structure, a skinny kid from the Dominican Republic rocketed through the Cubs’ minor league system. By the time he was 21 years old, Juan Cruz looked and pitched like an old wise man. Cruz teased Cubs fans in the spring with his repertoire, but never had the impact in the MLB that the Cubs expected he would. Not until he was traded from the Cubs and allowed to face Cub hitters, at least. And that’s why Juan Cruz ranks #40 in the Top 79 Cub Killers of My Time.

Juan Cruz was signed out of the Dominican Republic on the 4th of July, 1997, because THAT’S HOW WE DO THINGS IN THE USA! Cruz made his Major League debut on August 21, 2001, in a start against former Cub fatass Ruben Quevedo and the Milwaukee Brewers. Cruz was brilliant, holding the Brewers to 3 hits and 2 earned runs over 6 innings, while striking out 8 and walking only 1. The Cubs–as would so often happen early in Cruz’s career–gave him only a run of support, and they lost 3-1. One run. Off Ruben Quevedo. At home. And they struck out 10 times. Against Ruben Quevedo.

After Cruz finished his rookie 2001 season with the Cubs with a 3-1 record, 3.22 ERA, and 39 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings pitched, he was penciled into the 2002 starting rotation. Cruz lost his first 5 straight starts, and his first 7 decisions, despite a very respectable 3.86 ERA during that stretch. Unfortunately for Cruz, he was walking more batters than striking them out, so he was bumped from the rotation by Don Baylor. Ironically, he got bumped after his only win as a starter, a 4-3 victory over the Pirates in the back end of a doubleheader.

Cruz got back some of his control as a reliever, walking 28 over 51 2/3 innings pitched while striking out 50. He compiled a 4.18 ERA and a 2-4 record, and he blew 3 of the 4 save chances he was given. By the end of the 2003 season, during which Cruz bounced up and down to the MLB and compiled a 2-7 record to go along with his 6.05 ERA, the ever-patient Cubs had given up on their 24-year-old prospect. They traded Cruz and Steve Smyth (holy shit, remember him?) to the Atlanta Braves for Richard Lewis (the ballplayer, not the self-loathing comic) and the amazingly terrible Andy Pratt. Pratt pitched a whopping 1 2/3 innings for the Cubs (though he managed to face 13 batters and walk 7 of those during that stretch). Lewis never made the Majors. Cruz went on to establish himself as a respectable reliever, and is currently sporting a 3.06 ERA in 32 1/3 innings pitched for the Tampa Bay Rays. THAT’S HOW JIM HENDRY WINS TRADES!

Cruz’s first appearance against his former team was on April 9, 2004. You might remember it as “The Todd Hollandworth Game.” Certainly the collectors’ edition DVD about the 2004 Cubs season calls it such. The Cubs were down 1-0 to the Braves in Atlanta. Carlos Zambrano had struck out 7 over 7 innings, allowing only the 1 run. In the top of the 9th, pinch hitter Todd Hollandsworth launched the first pitch he saw from Braves closer John Smoltz into the seats to send the game to extra innings. Though the Cubs eventually won in 15 innings, it was no thanks to Juan Cruz. Cruz came on in the top of the 12th and kept the Cubs in check for 3 innings, allowing 4 hits and a walk, but striking out 5. Another former Cub, Will Cunnane, gave up a go-ahead sacrifice fly to Tom Goodwin in the 15th, handing the Cubs a 2-1 win. Interesting(?) note: Dusty Baker countered the insertion of Juan Cruz in the top of the 12th by giving the ball to none other than Andy Pratt in the bottom of the 12th. Predictably, Pratt walked 2 of the 4 batters he faced before getting bailed out by Todd Wellemeyer.

As part of the Tim Hudson deal, Cruz was traded at the end of the 2004 season to the Oakland Athletics, where Cruz pitched only 32 2/3 innings and had a bloated 7.44 ERA. The A’s sent Cruz to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Brad Halsey. Cruz spent 3 successful years in Arizona, putting up a 3.47 ERA in 207 1/3 innings. He struck out 246 hitters in that time and walked only 110. After the 2008 season, Cruz was granted free agency, and he signed with the Kansas City Royals, where he pitched for two rocky seasons to the tune of a 5.50 ERA. Cruz has bounced back during the 2011 season with the Rays.

Throughout the course of his career versus the Cubs, Juan Cruz has a 3-0 record (including 2 starts), a 2.11 ERA, and has whiffed 27 Cubs in only 21 1/3 innings. All while smiling at Jim Hendry with the wrinkled gaze of an old man showing that whipper snapper what might have been.

Why You Should Hate Him: Other than for being part of the reason you had to watch Andy Pratt pitch? Well, remember how I mentioned that Cruz has two starts against the Cubs? Both of them came in 2006 when Cruz was pitching for the Diamondbacks. In the first, Cruz shut out the Cubs for 5 innings in Arizona, allowing 4 hits and 2 walks while striking out 7. The Cubs lost that one 6-0. In his second start, the first game of a doubleheader at Wrigley Field, Cruz allowed only 1 run in 5 innings as the Diamondbacks beat STARTER Carlos Marmol by a final of 10-2. In case you’re wondering, the Cubs won the second game of the doubleheader 7-3 behind the golden arm of Juan Mateo. Yes, the 2006 Cubs were as painful to watch as you remember.

Did You Know? Cruz is from Bonao, capital of the Monseñor Nouel province of the Dominican Republic and birthplace of current phenom Cub reliever Carlos Marmol. FULL CIRCLE.


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