ANAHEIM, Calif. — You can see why Oakland Athletics fans hated to see Yoenis Cespedes go.
Cespedes is an exciting player. He has a cannon arm, runs fast, plays hard, can hit for power, and covers a lot of ground in the outfield.
On Sunday, he won the game for the Red Sox with a line-drive homer to left field that went out in a flash, with two aboard in the eighth inning of a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Angels.
David Ortiz kidded, “That went out so fast he couldn’t enjoy it.”
Indeed, it was hard to “pimp” a ball that shot through the Southern California air and over the wall so rapidly.
Cespedes ran around the bases pretty fast after breaking open a scoreless game. It was his finest moment as a Red Sox since he came over in the Jon Lester deal on July 31.
Cespedes, who went 1 for 4, has reached base in all eight games since coming over from the A’s, but he hadn’t yet displayed his “A” game until the power show.
Cespedes, a two-time Home Run Derby champion, hadn’t homered in 11 games and has hit only four homers since this season’s derby.
He gave a quick “no” when asked whether the Home Run Derby may have messed up his power stroke. It didn’t Sunday against Joe Smith, against whom he’s now 5 for 10 with seven RBIs.
Cespedes has driven in seven of the 14 runs Smith has allowed this season.
Cespedes has been an Angels killer, with 13 of his 72 RBIs coming against the A’s most hated rival. Not to mention that he’s thrown out five Angels runners this season.
“They’re probably glad to see me go,” said Cespedes with a smile.
Cespedes certainly represents an upgrade for the Red Sox offense. While his numbers don’t always reflect it, he represents a scary presence in the middle of the order. He’s only 5 feet 11 inches, but he’s very strong, built like a bodybuilder.
When he squares the ball up he can hit it very hard, creating almost a violent explosion, like a Gary Sheffield or a Dave Winfield. The problem is he doesn’t have great command of the strike zone. The feeling is if he ever developed that Mike Napoli-type of patience, he’d be an MVP. He would add 30-40 points to his batting average, and put more balls in play.
“He’s one scary dude up there,” Ortiz said. “He’s got real big-time power. When he comes up there, pitchers are a little afraid. He hits those line drives and he can hurt you. As he gets more experience in the league he’s going to get better and better. He’s going to get more selective and swing at good pitches. That comes with experience. He’s been in the league not even three years, so little by little he’s going to figure out the strike zone.”
Cespedes, who was playfully sprayed with $500-a-bottle cologne by Ortiz as he conducted the interview, said of being Ortiz’s teammate, “He’s given me guidance on and off the field, which should really help my career.”
The Cespedes/Ortiz dynamic in the middle of the order should be exciting once it clicks. It may never be as good as Ortiz/Manny Ramirez, but Cespedes, at 28, seems to be coming into the prime of his career. Ortiz is at the tail end of his career, but he is still tied for third in all of baseball in RBIs with 84, first among lefthanded hitters.
Ortiz sat out Sunday’s game after serving as the DH for 19 innings and seven at-bats in Saturday night’s 5-4 loss.
Cespedes went 1 for 7 in the marathon and was right back out there for the afternoon game. Cespedes continued to play his most comfortable position — left field. When Allen Craig returns from the disabled list, Cespedes will go to right field, which is where the Red Sox envision him for the long term to take advantage of his speed and cannon arm, especially at Fenway.
Shane Victorino has said that when he returns next season he expects to be the right fielder, but something has to give. Victorino recently had back surgery and nobody knows how much of the outfield he’ll be able to play initially. Victorino won the Gold Glove in right last season and has won three of them in center.
If Jackie Bradley Jr. continues to struggle, will Victorino go back to center if he’s healthy? Manager John Farrell was asked if Cespedes would move to center, or at least see time there, and he made it sound as if that’s not an option at this time. Cespedes wasn’t a big fan of having to move to center, where he has started 65 games.
Cespedes has made the majority of his starts in left field, and the first time he starts in right for the Red Sox will be his first rodeo there.
The Red Sox don’t believe Craig is suited for the tougher outfield assignment in right. If he now has foot issues that he has to manage, Craig who also projects as a better first baseman, will have to play the shorter field.
Cespedes has come off as a team player so far.
When asked whether he pays attention to his old team, the A’s, he said, “I just follow this [Red Sox] team.” Good answer.
As we said, Cespedes’s loss didn’t go over big with A’s fans. He was the one player that brought some pizzazz to the lineup. On any given night you’d either see him throw somebody out, make a great catch, or hit a home run.
That was taken away from the A’s.
It was exactly what the Red Sox needed to add. Their outfield had performed at historic lows all season. There was no power and certainly no excitement.
The Red Sox needed a bat that could win a game with one swing.
Sunday they got the Home Run Derby champion to do his thing.