Cespedes provides firm reminder of his greatness
A's star had been overshadowed by Cuban countrymen before huge game
OAKLAND -- With the arrival a year ago of outfielder Yasiel Puig at Dodger Stadium and this year's emergence of first baseman Jose Abreu on the South Side of Chicago, A's outfielder Yoenis Cespedes seemingly had become baseball's forgotten Cuban.
Not any more, he isn't.
He doesn't have all the sizzle that comes with Puig's out-of-control but breathtaking style of play. And he isn't the rocket-launching home run hitter of an Abreu.
Cespedes is understated greatness on the field. He does, however, possess the full set of tools. He displayed each of them in the A's 11-3 victory against the Angels on Saturday night.
And there were plenty of witnesses.
There was a sellout crowd that filled O.co Coliseum to pay homage to the A's 1974 World Series championship team, the living members from that team, his A's teammates and, of course, the visiting Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
"I see the field like that," he said of the pregame ceremony in which those `74 A's entered on a red carpet from center field. "I see the stands full. It is so loud. It made me feel strong."
It certainly made the A's feel good, watching their major offseason addition of two years ago emerge from a May malaise with arguably the biggest showcase game of his career.
The A's have been struggling -- having lost seven of 10 going into Saturday -- and so had Cespedes. He was hitting .152 his last 11 games.
All of that, however, was forgotten in the span of three hours and 13 minutes on a Saturday night when the A's saw the player who not so coincidentally joined them just in time to be a part of their back-to-back American League West championship teams the last two years.
"Not by us," A's manager Bob Melvin said of the suggestion Cespedes had been pushed into the background by the latest Cuban big league arrivals. "He's been a terrific performer for us."
Hard to believe he has had a more complete performance than the one Saturday night.
He flashed his defense early, coming to the rescue of struggling A's starting pitcher Tommy Milone, who did give up a three-run home run to Collin Cowgill in the fourth, who was saved of an early game knockout by the defensive demonstration of Cespedes.
How good was Cespedes? Well, the Angels sent five batters to the plate in the second inning. Four of them singled. Two of them were thrown out trying to score from second base on singles to left. Cespedes gunned down Chris Iannetta for the first out of the inning, and after Milone struck out Erick Aybar, Cespedes threw out Kole Calhoun at home to end the inning.
"Obviously he had a career night," said Milone. "I was fortunate it was [this game]."
He didn't stop with the defense. After a double to set up the A's first run in the fourth, he gave the A's a 5-3 lead in the seventh, driving in two runs with a drive to right field where he purely outran the ball to stretch a double into a triple. For good measure, he delivered a three-run home run in the eighth.
He sent a reminder around the big leagues that he is not yesterday's news. He is still very much a part of why the A's are sitting on top the AL West again this year, having regained a 3 1/2-game lead on the Angels with back-to-back victories in a three-game series that concludes Sunday.
"I saw the numbers on the Cubans today and he was on the low end," admitted Melvin, "but he came up big for us when we needed him."
No big deal. There was a challenge, and Cespedes took it on without blinking.
That's his style.
He isn't afraid of proving himself in an unknown arena.
When the A's signed him two years ago, it wasn't because they came up with the biggest and best contract offer. Their budget could have never handled a six-year or longer commitment, like the deals Miami, the Cubs, Detroit, Baltimore and the White Sox dangled.
The A's were willing to pay the salary Cespedes wanted annually, but for a shorter term. That is what Cespedes wanted. So when the A's offered the four-year, $36 million deal and agreed not to offer arbitration at the end of the deal, which means Cespedes is a total free agent in 2015, the deal was done.
Cespedes didn't look at that as a gamble, but rather an opportunity.
It gave him four years of financial security and also provided him four years to establish that he could be just as big an impact player in the big leagues as he had been in the amateur world of his native Cuba.
A game like the one he put together Saturday night underscores the type of impact he can have.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.