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Will Yoenis Cespedes be a ‘remember me’ MVP for the Mets?

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You can question plenty about some of the choices Yoenis Cespedes has made, but never his love of baseball.

Many Cuban players who defect from the island have harrowing accounts of crossing the perilous Caribbean waters in rickety homemade wooden vessels known as “balsas,” or seeing people starve to death or get arrested time and time again for trying to depart their homeland in search of a better life.

Céspedes is one of them.

He has stories of sneaking around the vindictive Cuban police force, being imprisoned and branded a traitor. His eyes still well up when he talks about not being able to see his family, or his young son, for years. Or when he discusses his dealings with human trafficking and staring death in the face.

Coming to the United States meant so much more than baseball for Céspedes. That has made the past three years harder for him. Even his signature smile had disappeared.

Back in 2012, Céspedes, then 26, was a feel-good story. The Cuban national became the highest-paid player on Oakland’s roster before playing a single major league game after signing a four-year, $36 million contract.

In Cuba, he had two nicknames, El Talento (The Talent) and La Potencia (The Power), and he lived up to both of them. He hit 49 home runs for the Athletics in his first two seasons after defecting from Cuba, and he became a two-time Home Run Derby champion.

Then A’s exec Billy Beane did what Billy Beane does, and acquired ace pitcher Jon Lester by trading Céspedes to the Red Sox in 2014. After a short season-ending stint in Boston, the Red Sox made Céspedes the centerpiece of another trade for a starting pitcher, this time sending him to Detroit for Rick Porcello.

After that came the trade that changed everything for him. Just a few minutes before the July 31 trade deadline in 2015, the Mets acquired Céspedes from the Tigers for then minor league right-handers Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa.

Céspedes flourished on New York’s big stage in the heat of a stretch run, hitting 17 home runs in 57 games while helping the Mets to their first NL East title since 2006 and first pennant in 15 years. There was no storybook ending as the Mets lost the World Series to Kansas City, but after that thrilling introduction to baseball in the Big Apple, Céspedes decided to re-sign with the Mets. In the first year of his new deal, he finished a career-best eighth in National League MVP voting while hitting 31 home runs.

Yoenis Céspedes had it all: the youthful enthusiasm of Ken Griffey Jr., Ryan Howard’s swing in a Bo Jackson-esque body. He had a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger Award and a four-year, $110 million contract.

But when he was told to tone down the off-field antics and the injuries started to pile up, he became tabloid fodder in a hurry. Céspedes went from one of the most highly touted Cuban prospects in decades to, as he read in one of the tabloids, a $110 million disaster.

Since 2017, Céspedes has played only 38 games in a Mets uniform while suffering through a seemingly nonstop run of injuries. He had hamstring strains that kept him off the field for much of that 2017 season. In 2018, he had a hip flexor strain, then needed to have a surgical procedure to remove bone calcification from both of his heels. While rehabbing from that surgery, Céspedes suffered multiple ankle fractures in a reported run-in with a wild boar that is now part of the ill-starred Mets’ lengthy injury lore.

And after all of those mishaps and the media mayhem they inspired, Cespedes’ return to the majors might seem almost as unexpected as playing baseball in the age of the coronavirus. But he knew he had the strength to do so.

“My brain is my strongest muscle,” said Céspedes, who can leg-press 1,300 pounds. “I think a big part of the motivation is the people who have been out there and have been saying that I can’t do it. I’m going to prove that I can.”

Céspedes admits he has made mistakes and he’s always known fans could boo as loudly as they could cheer. However, the one thing he will not tolerate is anyone questioning his integrity as a competitor.

“I have heard it all. All the people talking, making fun of me, doubting that I can still play. That has been the most difficult part for me, but it has also become my main motivator,” Céspedes told ESPN. “I am here to prove to myself, and to the Mets, that I can still be the same player. I am here to prove to myself that after two years and three surgeries, I can come back to the same level. The way I feel right now, I think I can accomplish that.”

Céspedes’ legs are not quite at their best, but he says he can improve and remain on the field for the entire season. The last time he played more than 37 games was in 2017 when he hit .292 with 17 home runs in just 81 games.

“[During the hiatus] I was working out seven days a week, waking up at 5 a.m., working hard every day to come back. I want to show my team and my organization that despite being away for two years, I can still play at the level I used to,” he said. “I worked very hard to get to where I am today and the thing that clicked in my head was that I needed to prove to myself that I could do it.”

He certainly proved himself capable on Opening Day at Citi Field on Friday by scoring the Mets’ only run with a blast in their 1-0 win over the Braves. It was Céspedes’ 164th career home run and his first in two years almost to the date. And while it will go in the books as a 406-foot blast to left field off Braves reliever Chris Martin, to Céspedes it was much more than that.

“That first home run meant a lot to me. That home run to decide the game was one of the top three of my career. To do that after three years and help my team win … that meant a lot to me,” Céspedes said. “So many people said so many things, good and bad, about me, but for me, that home run was a small sample that I can still get the same results that I had in the past. I waited almost two years for that moment, being able to return to the field, with my teammates, in New York City. It’s a very special feeling.”

Thanks to the addition of the DH to the National League for the shortened 2020 season, the Mets will get every opportunity to keep Céspedes in the lineup. And if the last note he hits in this fourth and final season of his deal makes Mets fans recall that stretch run in 2015, they can remember him for what he still can do, not just what he did for them then.

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Dinelson Lamet carries no-hitter into 7th inning as Padres beat Diamondbacks

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SAN DIEGO — Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and the rest of the San Diego Padres were way too much for winless Madison Bumgarner and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Dinelson Lamet was brilliant in taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning and Tatis continued his remarkable power surge with a two-run homer off Bumgarner, who allowed four of San Diego’s club-record six long balls as the Padres beat the Diamondbacks 9-5 on Sunday.

Machado homered twice off Bumgarner. Wil Myers, Francisco Mejia and Ty France also went deep for San Diego.

Lamet (2-0) had allowed only one baserunner, on a hit by pitch, until Kole Calhoun homered on a 2-0 pitch leading off the seventh. Lamet got two more outs before manager Jayce Tingler pulled him in favor of rookie Luis Patino.

Lamet retired the first 14 Diamondbacks batters, struck out 11 overall and walked none in 6 2/3 innings. The hard-throwing right-hander hit Andy Young with a pitch with two outs in the fifth but otherwise kept Arizona off the bases until Calhoun’s homer.

The Padres remain the only major league team without a no-hitter, having played 8,154 games since 1969 without one.

“The saying we have is, hope is the last thing you lose,” Lamet said. “I’m not out there first pitch, first hitter, thinking, ‘OK, today I’m going to throw a no-hitter.’ I’m going out there to get outs. I get ahead of a guy, get two strikes, I’m trying to get quick outs, I’m trying to get you out with as few pitches as possible. I’m attacking. So in my mind, the result is going to take care of itself.”

Machado said Lamet had been locked in since Saturday.

“He told me yesterday, ‘Hey, hold down the fort today because tomorrow I’m coming in with some gas and I’m going to put out that fire.’ … Today since the first pitch, he was ready to go,” Machado said.

Lamet confirmed that conversation, saying: “Luckily, we were able to go out there and I was able to give a good effort and we won the game.”

San Diego took two of three in the series and is 5-2 against Arizona this season. With the Padres leading 9-1, Diamondbacks catcher Carson Kelly pitched the eighth. He allowed rookie Jake Cronenworth‘s leadoff double before retiring the side.

Arizona hit a pair of two-run homers off San Diego’s bullpen in the ninth.

Machado homered off Bumgarner in the first and second, and Myers also connected against the struggling left-hander, who was finished after two innings, matching his career low.

France and Mejia homered off reliever Taylor Widener in the third.

The six homers were the most the Padres have ever hit at home. It was the first time they’ve hit six homers in the first three innings, and just the fifth time that’s happened in the majors in 20 years.

Tatis, the son of the former big league infielder, drove a 2-2 curve an estimated 418 feet into the second deck with two outs in the second, his eighth homer, for a 5-0 lead. The 21-year-old shortstop has hit five in the last four games and six in six games. He hit four in this series, including leadoff shots Friday and Saturday nights. He connected twice Saturday night.

Tatis has been on base in 17 straight games dating to his last game of 2019, on Aug. 13. He missed the rest of the season with a stress reaction in his lower back but still finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

“Being 21 years old, he’s a freak athlete, he’s getting stronger, he’s lifting, he’s running, he’s moving well,” Tingler said. “He’s able to get barrel to ball, maybe on some more pitches he hadn’t been able to. He’s been working on his swing, shortening that up. You see the way the ball’s coming off the bat. He can leave the ballpark.”

Machado homered with one out in the first and Myers hit a two-run shot with two outs. Myers’ fifth homer brought in France, aboard on a walk.

After Tatis’ homer, Machado connected again, his third.

France greeted Widener with a homer leading off the third, and Mejia hit a two-run drive off the right-field foul pole with two outs. They were the first of the season for both.

Bumgarner (0-3) continues to struggle with the Diamondbacks, who gave him an $85 million, five-year contract in December after he spent a decade with the San Francisco Giants, helping them win three World Series titles in five seasons.

He allowed six runs and five hits in two innings, struck out two and walked two.

Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said the 31-year-old Bumgarner exited after experiencing back spasms.

Bumgarner also lost to the Padres on opening day, 7-2.

Young hit his first career homer, a two-run shot off Patino with one out in the ninth, and Nick Ahmed had a two-run shot off Tim Hill.

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Indians send Zach Plesac home for leaving hotel to go out in Chicago

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The Cleveland Indians sent starter Zach Plesac home after he violated team rules by leaving the hotel to go out in Chicago on Saturday, a source confirmed to ESPN.

The Athletic first reported the news on Plesac, who will be quarantined for 72 hours in Cleveland.

Plesac drove back to Cleveland in a rental car, a source told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

The right-hander tossed six strong innings in the Indians’ 7-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Saturday in Chicago. Plesac is 1-1 on the season, with a 1.29 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 21 innings pitched.

The Indians have been extremely stringent with safety protocols, and this action is seen as a warning to players. During summer camp, outfielder Franmil Reyes was ordered to stay away from the team after he was seen at a party without a mask.

Last month, Plesac, who has become a reliable starter for the Indians, spoke of the importance of players abiding by the “code of conduct” that every team was required to submit to MLB in hopes of completing the 60-game regular season.

“Definitely any time you can maintain social distancing is going to be what we have to focus on,” Plesac said July 3. “There are common sense situations, where you see things are packed or going out to the bars and drinking, doing stuff like that isn’t stuff that’s really important to us right now and shouldn’t be important to us right now.

“We’re given this privilege to be able to come back and play and given this short window to even play. It’s a good time now just to really buckle down and focus on what’s important and work toward something greater at the end of the season and, for these couple months, lock in and focus on what we have set for us at the end of the year.”

The Indians and White Sox wrap up their series in Chicago on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Oakland Athletics OF Ramon Laureano charges Houston Astros dugout, sparks brawl

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Benches cleared and even the stands emptied during Oakland’s 7-2 victory over the Astros on Sunday, tempers flaring at last between the AL West rivals months after Houston’s sign-stealing scandal was brought to light by Oakland pitcher Mike Fiers.

The Athletics’ ninth straight win was far overshadowed by what erupted in the seventh inning at the Coliseum.

Oakland’s Ramon Laureano got hit by a pitch — for the third time in the three-game series — this one by Humberto Castellanos with one out in the seventh. Laureano began exchanging words with animated Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron, then left first base, threw down his batting helmet and began sprinting toward him.

Astros catcher Dustin Garneau tackled Laureano before the A’s outfielder reached Cintron, and a wild scene ensued.

Players rushed out of both dugouts to join the fray. A’s and Astros players who were sitting in the seats, observing COVID-19 social-distancing protocols, also rushed onto the field.

Laureano was ejected by plate ump Ted Barrett, and the umpiring crew could easily be heard yelling at the players to “get back to the dugout!” through a ballpark with no fans.

Oakland batters were hit five times during the series, no Houston hitters were plunked.

A’s catcher Austin Allen was also ejected and Astros manager Dusty Baker was tossed a half inning earlier. Houston lost its fifth in a row overall.

Ex-Astros player Fiers didn’t pitch this series. He went public in November about Houston’s detailed sign-stealing scam. The Astros have won the past three division crowns, a World Series in 2017 and AL pennant last year. The A’s won 97 each in 2018 and ’19 only to lose the AL wild-card game.

Matt Olson hit a three-run homer in the third and Matt Chapman connected the very next pitch, taking the score from 1-0 to 5-0 on consecutive offerings from Astros starter Cristian Javier (1-1).

Robbie Grossman also homered and Mark Canha contributed an RBI single.

The A’s (12-4) matched the 2013 club for the best record after 16 games over the last 30 years.

A’s rookie left-hander Jesus Luzardo (1-0) earned his first major league win in his second career start. His day was done after allowing back-to-back two-out walks in the sixth.

The 22-year-old Luzardo outdid 23-year-old Javier in a matchup of two top pitching prospects.

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