Cespedes came back with a bang, immediately capitalizing on 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 on Friday.
After five dominant innings from deGrom, who was popping the catcher's mitt with 99 mph fastballs at the start, Cespedes connected in the seventh inning off reliever Chris Martin (0-1) for his first long ball since his previous major league game on July 20, 2018.
"I don't care if he took a five-year hiatus, when he gets in the batter's box, you're worried," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He's such a presence."
The 34-year-old slugger missed most of the past two seasons 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.
"That was one of the things that kept me motivated to come back," Cespedes said of proving doubters wrong. "And being able to hit a home run after being out for two years, it proved to me that I can still be the same player that I used to be.
Rule changes for this shortened season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic provided a DH in National League games for the first time -- giving the Mets a perfect slot for Cespedes, even if left field presents a problem.
With no fans at Citi Field due to the pandemic, it was easy to hear teammates exclaiming in the dugout when Cespedes sent his drive soaring into the empty left-field seats.
"They erupted. They went crazy," Mets rookie manager Luis Rojas said. "Obviously, it's a big moment for Ces. He's been waiting."
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. The right-hander extended his scoreless streak to a career-best 28 innings dating to last season, the longest active streak in the majors.
DeGrom said it was a different Opening Day atmosphere with no fans, but he was happy to get the win off a home run from Cespedes.
"The funny thing is, I joked with him before the game. I said, 'Why are you hitting for me?'" deGrom said. "He went out and hit a home run for us, which was big. I was inside doing some shoulder stuff, my normal after-pitching routine, and, yeah, I was really happy for him."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Yoenis Cespedes goes yard for first time since 2018
After missing the entire 2019 season with a wrist injury, Yoenis Cespedes hits a solo shot over the left-field wall to give the Mets a 1-0 lead over the Braves.