New DH Cespedes blasts HR in return to lift Mets


NEW YORK — Yoenis Cespedes came back with a bang, taking immediate advantage of the new designated hitter rule in the National League by launching a home run that sent Jacob deGrom and the New York Mets past the Atlanta Braves 1-0 in their season opener Friday.

After five dominant innings from deGrom, who was popping the catcher’s mitt with 99 mph fastballs from the start, Cespedes connected in the seventh off reliever Chris Martin (0-1) for his first long ball since his previous major league game on July 20, 2018.

The slugger missed last season and most of 2018 with a string of leg injuries, requiring surgery on both heels, and then a broken ankle after a bad fall at his Florida ranch in a reported run-in with a wild boar.

Rules changes for this shortened season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic provided a DH in NL games for the first time — giving the Mets a perfect slot for Cespedes as he gets back in the swing of things.

With no fans at Citi Field due to the pandemic, it was easy to hear teammates exclaiming loudly in the dugout when Cespedes sent his drive into the empty left-field seats.

Seth Lugo (1-0) tossed two innings, pitching out of trouble in the seventh for New York, and Justin Wilson whiffed Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner in scoring position to end the eighth. Edwin Diaz, who lost his job as closer during a miserable 2019 season, struck out two in a hitless ninth for the save. He worked around a one-out walk, giving rookie manager Luis Rojas a victory in his debut.

Braves All-Star starter Mike Soroka, who won his previous two matchups with deGrom, allowed four hits in six outstanding innings.

Coming off consecutive Cy Young Awards, deGrom fanned eight and permitted only a broken-bat single and a walk. He was pulled after 72 pitches following a back-tightness scare early last week that limited his ability to build up further during summer camp games. The right-hander extended his scoreless streak to a career-best 28 innings dating to last season, the longest active streak in the majors.

Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman made his 10th straight Opening Day start after returning to camp a week ago from a frightening bout with COVID-19 that spiked his fever to 104.5 degrees.

Marcell Ozuna doubled and went 1-for-4 in his Braves debut.

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