NEW YORK — Not long after he capped off a bountiful performance at the Home Run Derby on Monday night with a 455-foot shot to center field and a bat flip for the ages, Yoenis Céspedes stepped into a press conference at Citi Field and talked a game that was just as good. Walking to the stage, he made eye contact with some of the reporters who cover Oakland Athletics and said:
"I told you so!"
Céspedes finished with 32 home runs, including nine in the final round against 20-year-old Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, to take home a trophy and a new (and possibly dented) Chevrolet pickup truck. Despite a rough first half in which he batted .225/.293/.420, Céspedes obviously remains confident in the person who finished second in Rookie of the Year and 10th in MVP voting in 2012. And he expressed no doubt his bat would stay awake once the A's started playing games again come Friday.
"In Cuba I played eight seasons and my first halves were always poor compared to my second halves, which were always the better ones," Céspedes said, with ESPN's Pedro Gomez translating. "So I'm not really worried because I believe that will happen again."
Even as a rookie in the majors, the pattern of slow starts continued for Céspedes, who posted a .909 OPS in the second half after going to the break at .790. If he gets hot again, there's yet another reason to think Oakland can hold off the Texas Rangers again in the AL West race. The A's lead by two games as of the break.
Confidence is a major component of any ballplayer's mental makeup, and Céspedes was overflowing with it Monday night — no matter that he was an afterthought to compete in the first place.
"I feel very grateful to the people — Robinson Cano — who asked me to come here," Céspedes said, referring to the team captain. "During the first round, when I took my first five swings, I felt that I was really into a rhythm and felt that I could put on a show like I did tonight."
The only reason Céspedes even competed in the Derby was because the Blue Jays told slugger Jose Bautista to not play. Yet, Céspedes seemed like a guy who should have been in the field all along. Noting his experience with the Derby format back in Cuba — no matter that the crowds were closer to 30,000, compared to the big-league venue at Citi — Céspedes said he was not intimidated by the surroundings. And the ballpark's big dimensions, thought to be an additional challenge for the competitors, were nothing compared to the Oakland Coliseum, which is notorious for putting a drag on home run totals.
"This stadium may be very difficult, but it's not as difficult as Oakland," Céspedes said. "And I thought, 'If I can do it in Oakland then why can't I do it here?' "
A "New York, New York" attitude, only with the cities reversed. Now that he's made it here, Céspedes can get back to trying to win everywhere else. He'll probably do it, too. Just ask him about his chances.