Yermín Mercedes amazes with five hits in first major league start

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Vinnie Duber
·5 min read
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Mercedes amazes with five hits in first big league start originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Yermín Mercedes' first professional at-bat came 10 years ago. He's spent time in three organizations. He's played independent ball. He's played Dominican winter ball.

He's the definition of a journeyman.

That long journey finally arrived in the major leagues last year, though if you blinked you might have missed it. He made one trip to the plate during the COVID-shortened season.

RELATED: How Jake Lamb aims to help Sox 'win some baseball games'

Well, there was no missing what Mercedes did when he finally got to start a big league contest Friday night.

He went 5-for-5, the first time any player did that in their first career start in major league history.

What an arrival for this journeyman.

"I just want to cry every time when I see I'm in the majors right now," Mercedes said after the game. "I just want to cry because it's (been) a long time. It's a long time. I passed (through) everything. I've got a big history. It's about time, but it's hard for me because just looking around I'm like, 'It's real. I'm here.'

"Because I know when it was a couple years ago, (I said), 'What am I going to do? What's going to happen with me?' I just said, 'God, when am I going to be in the majors? What do I need to do?' Because all the time, all my years, I put up my numbers, do the best of myself.

"But the time is now, the opportunity is now. Just keep working hard, keep the head up, trust in God."

Mercedes, who made the Opening Day roster after back-to-back springs of winning over fans with his offensive displays, banged out four singles and a double Friday night as the White Sox picked up their first win of the 2021 campaign, a 12-8 final against the Los Angeles Angels. He drove in as many runs as José Abreu, the American League's reigning MVP. And three of his five hits came in two-strike counts, perhaps suggesting that Jason Benetti start practicing a new nickname: "Yermy Two Strikes."

That we're talking about Mercedes landing himself in baseball's record books is pretty remarkable. So, too, is the fact that we're talking about him being here at all.

"At some points, I just wanted to give up. I just wanted to say, 'I don't want to play anymore. I don't know what I need to do, but yes, I want to give up,'" he said after the game. "But my family, my father, my mom said, 'Hey, you can do it, keep working. You can do it. We trust in you because we know who you are.'

"A lot of times, I say, 'Hey, I don't want to play anymore,' or 'I'll go home,' or 'I don't want to do this.' But every time, they're with me and they say, 'Hey, keep doing (it). You're the best. You're the best.' So I say, 'All right, I'm going to keep doing that,' because those guys say to keep doing that.

"I'm happy with that, because my mom, my father, my brother, they're happy right now because they say, 'You do it. You do it,' and, 'You're the best.' I say, 'Yes, it's for y'all, family.'"

Indeed, the opportunity has arrived for Mercedes. The injury to Eloy Jiménez means it's all hands on deck for the White Sox, who need to figure out how to plug the gaping hole in their lineup as well as find someone to man the vacated position in left field. It figures to be a community approach to both, but certainly there's a chance for somebody to show they deserve increased at-bats.

Friday was just one game, but Mercedes, who manager Tony La Russa said before the season started wasn't likely to see much playing time at his regular position of catcher, threw his hat in the ring to be that guy. He threw it in there five times.

"We're just going to be ready all the time," Mercedes said. "We have to be ready because we don't know what is going to happen when the manager and team will give (us) the opportunity to be in the lineup. Everybody be ready because you don’t know when Tony is going to say, 'Hey, you’re playing.'"

La Russa is intent on getting at-bats for all his players, starting two different combinations of guys in left field and at DH in the first two games of the season. But when a guy goes 5-for-5, that will warrant some reconsideration.

"It's a shame he's not playing tomorrow," La Russa deadpanned after the game. "I told Tim (Anderson), 'You tell him he's not playing tomorrow.' He said, 'No, you better play him.' I said, 'Yes, I will.'"

After all this time, Mercedes got his opportunity to start a major league game. Turning in a performance that finds its way to the record books is pretty cool. Turning in a performance that already has the manager handing out more playing time? That's more important.

And if Mercedes can keep it up, this journeyman might find himself with a nice role on a team that's competing for a championship.

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