David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Yoenis Cespedes spent the 20 minutes before Saturday's batting practice sitting at his locker. In full uniform, cap turned backward, Cespedes occasionally glanced up at his nameplate. Then straight ahead at the clothes hangers.
All of this took some time to absorb, a day removed from playing with the Tigers roughly 200 miles away at Camden Yards. But Cespedes wasn't alone in feeling that way. The Mets themselves seemed in need of a re-calibration, a period of adjustment after becoming the sort of team that makes a deadline deal for the kind of player that Cespedes is.
"I'm pretty amped up," Terry Collins said before a 3-2 win over the Nats. "In all the years I was in pennant races in September -- and there were a lot of them -- we never did this. We never got a piece like this. I think our guys know they're in it now. You can talk all you want. But when you make moves like this, it's legit."
Cespedes, perhaps unfairly, arrives as a symbol for the Mets, proof that the franchise is willing to do what it takes to win. Sandy Alderson said as much Friday in announcing the deal. Now Cespedes will carry that Unisphere-size weight on his broad shoulders, for every trip to the plate, where he went 0-for-3 Saturday night with an intentional walk.
As far as we can tell, Cespedes should be able to handle it. He breezed through the introductory news conference, with the use of an interpreter, and apparently took the trade -- his third in a year -- pretty much in stride.
"I was prepared that this would happen," Cespedes said. "I had an idea, so it didn't catch me by surprise."
For the rest of us, the shocking part was the destination, and Cespedes was shadowed by a dozen photographers once the Mets took the field. It's been a while since they've had a player worth watching during batting practice -- maybe Carlos Delgado?
Halfway through his second turn, Cespedes launched a 450-foot shot that sailed over the Party City deck and into the left-center bleachers. A few pitches later, he went opposite field into the bullpen. This was only BP, of course, but it was a show nonetheless. And that's included in the package with a draw like Cespedes, who already has some Citi cred with his 2013 Home Run Derby crown.
We've been told that Cespedes enjoys the big stage, and now that he's on board, the Flushing ballpark should come closer to resembling one for the playoff chase.
"I really like playing in front of a big crowd," Cespedes said. "I think it drives me, pushes me to do better, to play better. To push myself more. So I really enjoy that. I'm looking forward to it."
So was Collins. Eight days ago, the manager was crafting lineups with Eric Campbell and John Mayberry Jr. featured prominently. That wasn't a game plan. It was a cry for help. But after the trades for Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, followed by the stunning addition of Cespedes, Collins could speak confidently about the lineup card. Saturday night's had Cespedes hitting third, which allowed the manager to better deploy a retooled roster.
The Mets no longer have to cross their fingers. Cespedes is a proven commodity, a verified weapon. Not a Vegas call-up or a calculated risk like Michael Conforto, who was spun back around to Triple-A before the game. Cespedes is the real deal, hitting .293 with 18 homers and an .829 OPS before coming to the Mets.
"This was the guy," Collins said. "I don't want to set the expectations too high. I just know we're better. And I think with our pitching, that means a lot."
We can't tell if it was simply the idea of Cespedes that helped energize the Mets in Friday's 12-inning, Wilmer Flores-driven victory. Or if his arrival injected some swagger.