With first base open, a runner on second and two outs in the fifth inning of a scoreless game Wednesday, A’s manager Bob Melvin said there was no question about whether or not to walk Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera intentionally.
“Every time we play the Tigers, we don’t let Cabrera beat us,” Melvin said. “That doesn’t mean it’s an easy matchup afterward, but it’s kind of the lesser of two evils.”
Though he had struck out in his first two at-bats, Cabrera, the two-time American League MVP, is a hitter whose presence is noted whenever he steps to the plate. For much of the previous three seasons, it could be argued the A’s version of that lineup presence – though certainly less accomplished – was Yoenis Cespedes. But Wednesday, in electing to walk Cabrera, the A’s chose to face Cespedes.
And Cespedes foiled his former team’s strategy by hitting Dan Otero’s 2-2 pitch over the left-field wall – a topspin line drive that carried out quickly to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead and an eventual 3-2 win. Back at the stadium where he developed a reputation for having a flair for the dramatic – his first time playing in Oakland since the A’s traded him last July – Cespedes entered a scenario set up for him to be the hero and seized the role.
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“I concentrate a little bit more,” Cespedes said, with reporter Jose Ortiz interpreting, about seeing Cabrera walked to get to him. “I never thought I was going to hit a home run, but I was confident I was going to do something.”
Before the at-bat, A’s pitching coach Curt Young visited Otero on the mound to discuss how to approach Cespedes. Otero got ahead in the count 0-2 before Cespedes took two pitches out of the strike zone and fouled off another. Otero tried to throw a changeup low, but it didn’t come in low enough.
“Obviously, it wasn’t in a perfect spot, but it wasn’t a terrible pitch,” Otero said. “I tried to bounce it, and that’s what it comes down to – I didn’t bounce it. It was up enough, and he was able to put a good piece of the barrel on it.”
It echoed some of Cespedes’ bigger swings during two-plus seasons with the A’s before the deal that sent him to Boston last summer for left-hander Jon Lester. When the A’s fell into a second-half tailspin that ended with their loss at Kansas City in the wild-card game, many fans grudgingly pointed to that trade as the beginning of the downfall – and for the 20,387 in attendance at O.co Coliseum, Wednesday’s events likely did little to assuage any lingering regrets.
Cespedes’ departure, though, was followed in the offseason by the trades of several other key players – including Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Derek Norris – so the A’s team Cespedes returned to face with Detroit had a markedly different core than the one he left 10 months ago.
“It’s not like it at all,” Cespedes said Wednesday.
Asked what’s different, he said: “They traded their best players that they had.”
After his brief time in Boston, which was reportedly not a good fit, Cespedes was traded to the Tigers last December and seems happier. Cespedes is hitting .291 with six home runs and 27 RBIs this season, but over his last 13 games, he is batting .362 with six multi-hit games.
Cespedes, who will be a free agent after this season, told the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday he still regards his trade from the A’s with some surprise, and he wasn’t sure what kind of reception to expect in the city where he made his entrance into the big leagues. Wednesday, he said the reception had been favorable, and that he felt “very happy and very honored that these fans still appreciate me.”
They may have felt less sentimental after watching Cespedes help keep the A’s without a series win at home this season. For Cespedes, it was a satisfying end to his return.
“I feel very happy,” Cespedes said. “Because even though I have a lot of affection for this team (the A’s), I play for this other team now. And what I want to do is win.”