SAN FRANCISCO — Yoenis Cespedes reached down, unhinged the lock on the door and closed it just enough to shield prying eyes from the indoor batting cage. He did not pick up a bat.
Hours before staging his one-man exhibition, Cespedes sat down on a plastic chair, fished a Marlboro red out of his pocket and blew puffs of smoke into the air. He looked relaxed, comfortable and convinced that what would follow could only be good.
Soon, in a 9-5 thrashing of the Giants on Saturday, it was as if the rest of his teammates remembered the virtue of carrying themselves the same way.
“He’s so dangerous in the middle of our lineup and he makes such a big difference,” said manager Terry Collins, who watched the Mets snap a three-game losing streak. “It’s nothing against anyone else, but he’s tough to replace. So it’s nice to have him back.”
The Mets took a break from looking defeated and beleaguered. For one afternoon, they were the bullies again, with Cespedes throwing the biggest haymakers. He homered twice, knocked in three runs and proved that he’s healed from the strained right quadriceps that sidelined him for two weeks.
Others also delivered significant contributions.
Alejandro De Aza broke open the game with a three-run homer in the sixth. Neil Walker went 2-for-4 and scored twice in his first start after missing four games with a balky back. And on the mound, the ageless Bartolo Colon limited the Giants to two runs in 6 1⁄3 innings.
But none of them could match Cespedes when it came to panache, even though he admitted that his timing is “not 100 percent back.” Not that it mattered.
“That presence instills fear and concern in other teams,” Colon said through a translator.
After the Cardinals lost in Philadelphia on Saturday night, the Mets (61-62) were 4 1⁄2 games behind St. Louis for the final wild-card spot. It already might be too late for them to make a serious run. But with the season on the brink of being lost, a healthy and productive Cespedes represents their best chance to defy the odds, keep themselves in the race and reach the playoffs for the second straight season.
“It just lengthens the lineup a little bit,” Walker said. “Everybody kind of feels the weight off of their shoulders a little bit. You feel like you don’t have to do anything more than your job.”
After an RBI double in the first, Cespedes hit a 457-foot homer to centerfield in the third, pushing the Mets’ lead to 3-0. With one swing, he showed some of the drive that had been missing from his lower body, which was compromised by his strained quadriceps.
“I’m able to swing better now that I’ve got that strength back in my leg,” Cespedes said through a translator.
After De Aza’s blast gave the Mets a 7-2 lead in the sixth, Ces pedes provided an exclamation point in the seventh. His second homer, a towering blast, landed in the upper reaches of the leftfield stands.
It was his first multihomer game since hitting three in Colorado last August, when his arrival via a trade with the Tigers spurred a second-half renaissance.
Repeating such theatrics would be an overly ambitious request for the Mets, who will need much more to overcome the deficit they have created for themselves. But it is nonetheless where they must start.
Cespedes is hitting a team-high .293 with 24 homers and 62 RBIs, and the Mets’ mercurial masher proved that his effect stretches far beyond his own spot in the lineup.
“Guys behind him, we know we’re going to have opportunities when he’s swinging the bat that way,” Walker said. “It was his show today.”