White Sox’ Yermin Mercedes’ historic 5-for-5 night begged a question: ‘Is this real?’Daryl Van Schouwenon April 3, 2021 at 5:01 pm

Yermin Mercedes of the White Sox reacts after his RBI double against the Los Angeles Angels during the ninth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on April 02, 2021 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images) | Getty

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. — If you’re Yermin Mercedes, and you have 10 years of professional baseball toil in your cleats, it’s hard to find the words.

So it was for the 28-year-old who, somewhat surprisingly despite a proven ability to hit a baseball, made the White Sox Opening Day roster and got his first major league start in the second game of the season Friday night at Angel Stadium.

Mercedes, the designated hitter batting eighth against left-hander Andrew Heaney, singled his first time up. The 5-11, 245-pounder pointed to the sky and was handed the ball, a souvenir for life, from Angels first baseman and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols.

“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.

By the end of his historic evening, Mercedes would have four singles and a double and four RBI in a perfect 5-for-5 effort that set him in a class by himself.

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 did it 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. There were times he actually thought about quitting, he said Friday.

“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 right now. 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.”

Signed by the Nationals 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 minor leagues. He hit 23 homers between Class AA Birmingham and AAA Charlotte in 2019. Defensive deficiencies kept him out of the majors, but he showed some improvements during spring training, and has been quick throwing from home to second.

With Eloy Jimenez out, there’s room in the Sox lineup for some pop. Mercedes doesn’t figure to be an everyday player, but he might have forced his way into a second straight start Saturday night.

“It’s a shame he’s not playing tomorrow,” La Russa said, laughing. “I told Tim [Anderson], ‘You tell him he’s not playing tomorrow.’ He said, ‘No, you better play him.’ I said ‘yes I will.’ ’’

“I don’t know [if I’m playing],” Mercedes said. “When Tony puts the lineup tomorrow, I just need to come to the field and be ready if I’m playing. Today is passed. Tomorrow is another day. Everyday is another day. Don’t focus on ‘Oh, I had five hits today’ or ‘Oh, I’m happy.’ No, today is passed. Yeah I had fun, I’m excited, but if I’m playing tomorrow, I just keep trying to do the same thing, do the best I can do on the plate. Keep working hard.”

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