SAN DIEGO -- As he rounded second base in the seventh inning Tuesday, Yoenis Cespedes felt the telltale ache that has become all too familiar. His legs were tired but his dash was not complete. Cespedes measured his breaths as he slid into third base, popped up and sprinted home,
SAN DIEGO -- As he rounded second base in the seventh inning Tuesday, Yoenis Cespedes felt the telltale ache that has become all too familiar. His legs were tired but his dash was not complete. Cespedes measured his breaths as he slid into third base, popped up and sprinted home, his RBI triple transforming into a "Little League home run."
The play turned a tie game into a 6-5 Mets win over the Padres, but at what cost? The Mets will find out Wednesday, when their oft-injured slugger attempts to suit up again.
"I'm not too worried," Cespedes said through an interpreter late Tuesday. "I don't think it's going to be an impediment for playing tomorrow."
The Mets will wait and see and hope and fret, aware of how critical Cespedes is to their success. As the Mets struggled throughout much of June and July, Cespedes slumped, his legs occasionally bothering him while he went 90 consecutive plate appearances without homering.
That streak ended in the first inning Monday, when Cespedes blasted a Kyle Lloyd slider over the left-field fence. Four innings later, Cespedes doubled home a run, before coming to the plate in a tie game in the seventh. When reliever Phil Maton left a 1-0 fastball up in the zone, Cespedes lunged at it, unable to pull back his check swing. The ball shot down the right-field line, allowing Curtis Granderson to score and Cespedes to race around second.
That's when his legs began bothering him. But as Hunter Renfroe's throw sailed well wide of third base, Cespedes scrambled to his feet and dashed home to give the Mets a 6-4 lead, his hand touching the plate just before catcher Hector Sanchez smacked him on the helmet with his glove.
"Check-swing triple on a ball above the strike zone that scores two runs? It's definitely one of the flukier plays," Padres manager Andy Green said. "[Cespedes] is an incredibly talented guy, but it's one of those plays that he can probably laugh at later on."
On this night, however, the Mets weren't laughing, concerned about their $110 million left fielder's health. Earlier this season, Cespedes missed six weeks with a left hamstring strain that turned into a quad injury during his rehab. He has had consistent trouble keeping his lower body healthy throughout his big league career, enduring multiple hamstring, quad and hip issues in recent seasons.
Until recently, Cespedes had also confounded the Mets with his lack of production. He had not homered in 90 consecutive plate appearances, which spanned more than a month. Cespedes was batting just .214 with a .503 OPS over that stretch, the latter number second-worst among 157 qualified big leaguers.
Only lately has the situation changed, beginning with Cespedes' four-hit game July 14 against the Rockies. He added two more multi-hit games on the Mets' recent homestand and tripled home a run Monday, before falling a single short of the cycle on Tuesday.
"Just because things haven't been going great for me, doesn't mean I've stopped working hard," Cespedes said. "I think things started to change even before we left home."
Now, the Mets' challenge is simply to keep him healthy.
"That's exactly what I told him," manager Terry Collins said. "I said, 'I'm not going to take a chance tonight. We finally got you hot. I'm not going to take a chance on running you out there and having you make a tough play and have those things really cramp up' on him. So I got him out."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.