A Yoenis Cespedes home run more than two years in the making Friday gave Luis Rojas a win he’d waited his entire career to enjoy — and the New York Mets a victory that, in a 60-game season, was about three times as important as a normal Opening Day win.
The host Mets will look to lock up a series win over the Atlanta Braves on Saturday afternoon, when the National League East rivals meet in the second game of the season.
Steven Matz (11-10, 4.21 ERA in 2019) is scheduled to take the mound for the Mets against Max Fried (17-6, 4.02 ERA in 2019) in a matchup of left-handers.
Cespedes, playing in his first big league game in 734 days, snapped a taut scoreless duel Friday by homering to left in the seventh inning off Chris Martin. The 34-year-old, who missed the final two-plus months of the 2018 season due to dual heel surgeries and had his comeback derailed last season by a broken right ankle, also became the first National League player to homer as the designated hitter in his home park.
“It was very exciting just to be able to play again,” Cespedes said through an interpreter. “To be able to have a moment where I played and also hit the home run that decided the game, I don’t have words for a situation like that.”
The homer also ensured a winning result on a memorable afternoon for Rojas, who became the sixth manager in team history to win his debut on Opening Day. Rojas, who spent more than a decade as a minor league manager and coach in the Mets’ chain, is New York’s third manager since the 2019 finale. Mickey Callaway was fired four days after the season ended and Carlos Beltran, who was hired Nov. 1, resigned on Jan. 16 due to his role in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal in 2017.
After the game, the Mets showered Rojas with a variety of food and drinks — from an acceptable social distance, per closer Edwin Diaz — in the clubhouse.
“Different smell on me,” Rojas said. “I don’t know what they threw, but there’s a lot of stuff — maybe some protein shakes and jello.”
The loss capped a hectic Opening Day for the Braves, who played without their top two catchers, Travis d’Arnaud and Tyler Flowers. Both remain in Atlanta, where they are battling coronavirus symptoms.
D’Arnaud and Flowers have each tested negative thus far for the coronavirus, and while the Braves initially hoped one or both players could fly to New York Friday morning, the team is going to remain cautious after at least four players — including first baseman Freddie Freeman, who made his 10th straight Opening Day start Friday fewer than three weeks after running a temperature of 104.5 — tested positive before or during summer workouts.
“There’s no such thing as a common cold anymore,” Freeman said before Friday’s game. “So if you have symptoms, this is what is going to happen.”
Alex Jackson started at catcher Friday. Braves manager Brian Snitker said he expected Jackson to start again Saturday.
Matz is 6-2 with a 2.94 ERA in 13 career starts against the Braves. Fried is 2-1 with a 2.93 ERA in 11 games (six starts) against the Mets.
–Field Level Media