The 736-day wait for Yoenis Cespedes already seems worth it.
The veteran left-fielder-turned-designated-hitter under MLB’s new coronavirus-era rules lifted a majestic home run in the seventh inning of his first game back in two years to help lift the New York Mets to a 1-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Opening Day at Citi Field.
It was his first home run since July 20, 2018, ending an arduous stretch that saw the 34-year-old sidelined by foot and ankle injuries.
“To be able to have a moment where I’ve played and hit a home run that decided the game, I have no words to describe a situation like that,” Cespedes said.
His blast ensured the Mets’ sparkling pitching was not in vain — the day beginning with two-time defending NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom returning to the mound to a familiar sight: A brilliant start with no support.
Under a pitch limit due to his recent run-in with back-tightness, deGrom went five innings, allowing just one hit while striking out eight.
His counterpart, 22-year-old Braves ace Mike Soroka, was just as formidable on Friday evening, going six innings of scoreless ball with three strikeouts.
Also working under a strict pitch count, Soroka lasted only 69 pitches before making his way for reliever Chris Martin in the seventh.
After getting Michael Conforto to fly out, Martin served up an 0-1, 93 mile-per-hour fastball over the heart of the plate to Cespedes, who deposited the offering into the back of the first-deck of the empty left-field bleachers.
“Being able to hit a home run after being out for two years, it proved to me that I can still be the same player as I used to be,” he said. “I was just looking for a good pitch to make contact on.”
With the victory going to Seth Lugo, who pitched a pristine sixth and seventh innings with just one hit and three strikeouts, Justin Wilson held the Mets’ slim lead in the eighth before first-year manager Luis Rojas gave the ball to closer Edwin Diaz.
Following a nightmare, career-worst season in his debut campaign with the Mets last season after coming over from the Seattle Mariners — including seven blown saves and 15 home runs allowed — many questioned whether or not Diaz would maintain his ninth-inning role.
He got through it on Opening Day, though, working around a one-out walk to Freddie Freeman by striking out Marcell Ozuna and Matt Adams to secure a long-overdue first victory of the season.
Mets pitchers’ 15 combined strikeouts are the second-most ever by the team’s pitching staff on Opening Day, one short of the 16 they posted against the Cincinnati Reds in 2005.
With the win, the Mets are now 39-12 in their last 51 Opening Day games — by far the best record during that stretch of any MLB team.