White Sox’ Yermin Mercedes gets 3 more hits, opens 2021 with 8 in 8 plate appearances
If you’re Yermin Mercedes, and you have 10 years of professional baseball toil in your cleats, it’s hard to find the words.
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Eight hits in his first eight plate appearances this season.
The first player in the modern era of the major leagues to begin a season 8-for-8.
If you’re 28-year-old rookie Yermin Mercedes, and you have 10 years of professional baseball toil in your cleats, it’s hard to find the words.
Mercedes, who somewhat surprisingly, despite a proven ability to hit a baseball, made the White Sox’ Opening Day roster, followed a 5-for-5 night Friday with a single, home run and double in his first three plate appearances in the Sox’ 5-3 loss Saturday night at Angel Stadium. He finally made an out in the eighth on a fly to center.
The 5-11, 245-pound catcher, the Sox’ designated hitter these last two nights, had a brush with Angels first baseman and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols after the first hit Friday, his first in the majors.
“Congratulations, take the ball. There’s many more coming,” Pujols said, not knowing the second, third, fourth and fifth would also come that night in a 12-8 Sox victory, their first of the season.
And three more Saturday, falling two short of the record for consecutive hits by a Sox player, shared by three players, including Frank Thomas in 1997.
The only other player besides Mercedes in the modern era to have five hits in first career start was Washington’s Cecil Travis against Cleveland on May 17, 1933, and Travis needed seven at-bats. So Mercedes is the first in modern history — Fred Clarke also went 5-for-5 for the Louisville Colonels in 1894. Not bad for someone who entered with one other at-bat, against the Royals last season
“Historic,” manager Tony La Russa said. “Most of it was outstanding pieces of hitting, deep in the count.”
Mercedes had three hits with two strikes. Not bad for a Rule 5 draftee who had bounced around in rugged independent leagues trying to find his way.
“I mean, it’s too hard,” Mercedes said after the game, searching for words. “I just want to cry every time when I see I’m in the majors. I want to cry because it’s been a long time, a long time. I pass every [test]. I got a big history. Just looking around, I’m so like, ‘Is this real? I’m here.’
“I don’t know what to say right now. I’m just so happy.”
Mercedes homered against right-hander Alex Cobb in the second inning, and he doubled in the sixth to give the Sox a 3-2 lead.
The streak ended against right-hander Junior Guerra when Mercedes flied out to center fielder Mike Trout in the eighth.
Signed by the Nationals as an 18-year-old in 2011 and acquired by the Sox from the Orioles in the minor-league phase of the 2017 Rule 5 draft, the Dominican-born Mercedes is a career .302 hitter in the minors. He hit 23 homers between Class AA Birmingham and Class AAA Charlotte in 2019, but defensive deficiencies kept him out of the majors. He showed improvement during spring training, though, and has been quick throwing from home to second.
There were times Mercedes actually thought about quitting. In Santo Domingo, Yermin Mercedes Sr. probably thought about that while watching the game on TV.
“As a father, you don’t let your son quit,” Mercedes Sr. said Saturday. “You don’t let them give up on their dreams.”
And so, on a dream night, the family scene Friday at the Mercedes home was, well, up for grabs.
“When the first hit came, the joy, I thought the building was going down,” Mercedes Sr. said. “We were jumping and happy and screaming. And then the second and third and fourth and fifth. It was just joy and happiness.”
With Eloy Jimenez out, there’s room in the Sox’ lineup for some pop. Mercedes doesn’t figure to be an every-day player, but he forced his way into a second straight start, moving up to sixth in the lineup.
Mercedes wasn’t going to play Saturday, but La Russa — who wanted to get Jake Lamb some at-bats — knew he couldn’t sit Mercedes after five hits.
“It was open until he earned it,” La Russa said.