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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Slugger Yoenis Cespedes’ slump a concern for Mets

Pinch hitter Yoenis Cespedes of the New York

Pinch hitter Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets strikes out to end the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins at Citi Field on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

The fact that Yoenis Cespedes chose to sit out Saturday’s clinching celebration in the clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park isn’t that big of a deal. Spraying champagne and dumping cheap beer on your buddies always looks more fun that it actually is. If Cespedes wasn’t in the mood, as he said the next day, fine.

But what should be worrisome for the Mets, who hope to be partying again after Wednesday night’s wild-card tussle with the Giants, is Cespedes’ ability to help make sure bottles are popping again at Citi Field. Cespedes basically told us Sunday — through his interpreter — that the next celebration would be more meaningful anyway.

Now it’s up to him to snap out of his late September funk. We’re down to a one-game season. And his recent numbers have been somewhat alarming, especially with the knowledge that his right quadriceps issues are still very much affecting his day-to-day performance.

Since Sept. 12, a stretch of 18 critically important games, Cespedes batted .203 (14-for-69) with one home run and eight RBIs. Over the past month, among Mets with at least 60 plate appearances, his .398 slugging percentage ranks seventh, below that of T.J. Rivera (.552), James Loney (.516) and Jose Reyes (.412). These are not lengthy periods of time, but they are snapshots taken from a do-or-die push for the Mets, who needed until Game 161 to secure the top wild-card berth. And Cespedes wasn’t in the frame very much.

Terry Collins is convinced that Cespedes’ leg is a contributing factor, and this being the NL, he’s forced to test it on a daily basis in leftfield, where his limitations have been on display. That creates some anxiety for a manager — knowing one wrong step might remove Cespedes from the equation — but there’s no choice here. Cespedes has managed to be out there, despite hurting more than he’s let on.

“No question, I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Collins said. “When he gets on base, if he has to bust it, he busts it. But otherwise, we try to tell him to tail it off a little bit. We need him in the lineup.”

The Mets were fortunate to be able to sit Cespedes in Sunday’s finale, giving him three days to rest up for the Giants, his longest break since coming off the disabled list with the quad strain on Aug. 19. There’s no telling how much healing can be accomplished in 72 hours, but staying off the leg couldn’t hurt (we’re assuming Cespedes steered clear of any golf courses as well). During the weekend, however, it was difficult to determine what Cespedes needed more: a mental break or a physical one.

A day earlier, before the final out of the 5-3 clincher over the Phillies, Cespedes snapped after a called third strike and immediately was ejected by plate umpire Will Little as he stood in the batter’s box. The frustration had been building throughout the game, as Cespedes hit into a pair of double plays before that K pushed him past the boiling point. Collins said he had never seen Cespedes more angry.

“First time,” said Collins, who talked with Cespedes afterward. “These guys are proud. They don’t like to be embarrassed. He had a bad day and he was not happy about it.”

That carried over into the Mets’ postgame festivities, which Cespedes avoided, partly to get treatment in the trainer’s room. When asked the following day about his behavior, as the Mets packed up for the bus ride back to New York, Cespedes said through his interpreter, “After the game, I didn’t feel too good. So I’m waiting to celebrate Wednesday.”

Fair enough. The Mets tend to give Cespedes a wide berth, from the tricked-out cars and horses in spring training to Collins excusing his golfing-while-injured habit earlier this season. That’s not unusual for star players, especially one the Mets would like to have back after Cespedes likely opts out from the remaining two years, $47.5 million left on his current deal.

They just want a few more reasons to celebrate before then. And for Cespedes, Wednesday would be a great time to get the next party started.

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