There’s at least one Mercedes equipped with an engine that never turns off.
Yermín Mercedes, a third-string catcher who entered this season with a grand total of one a-bat in the major leagues, carved a niche in baseball history with eight hits in eight at-bats to start the season.
Nobody had ever done that before. Not Roberto Clemente. Not Albert Pujols. Not Edgar Martínez.
Old for a rookie at 28, he is also equipped with a rotund body, carrying 245 pounds on his 5’11” frame. He made the Chicago White Sox varsity as a combination backup catcher, right-handed pinch-hitter, and DH.
In his first major-league start Friday, Mercedes mauled the Los Angeles Angels with four straight singles and a two-run double during a five-run ninth. His four-RBI night paved the way for a 12-8 White Sox win at Angel Stadium.
Then he poked his first home run Saturday and followed the feat with a single and a sixth-inning double that knocked in Yoan Moncada, hit by a pitch earlier in the frame.
Mercedes, manager Tony La Russa, or any of the other witnesses could believe it.
“I never imagined getting eight straight hits in the majors,” he told reporters afterward. “It’s a new day for me. I just want to put the ball in play every day.”
Mercedes, whose spree ended when he hit a fly ball on a 3-2 pitch in the eighth Saturday, specializes in connecting with two strikes. Five of his record-breaking eight hits came in those situations.
“I have to be ready to catch, DH, or whatever Tony wants me to do,” he said afterward. “That’s what I think about.”
Mercedes, who had six runs batted in before play began on Easter Sunday, has more than enough time to think during a 10-year odyssey through minor league ball and independent leagues. Signed by the Nationals as an amateur free agent in 2011, he later hooked on with the Orioles organization before coming to the White Sox in the Rule 5 draft on Dec. 14, 2017.
His resume includes 617 minor-league games and 2,128 at-bats in the bushes. He also played for various unaffiliated teams, including the San Angelo Colts, White Sands Pupfish, and Douglas Diablos.
“I’ve got a big history,” said Mercedes, a Dominican national whose family refused to let him leave the game he loved. “A couple of years ago, I said, ‘What am I going to do? What’s going to happen to me? When am I going to be in the majors?’ All my years, I put up my numbers and did the best for myself.”
The long wait paid off during the opening series of 2021. And Mercedes anticipated it: when he found out he was going to start Friday, he told his father to film all of his at-bats because he had an inkling he would do well.
He was right; according to STATS, Mercedes and Cecil Travis of the 1933 Washington Senators are the only players in the history of baseball’s Modern Era (since the 1901 advent of the American League) to collect five hits in the first games they started.
“I just wanted to give up,” Mercedes said in retrospect. “I didn’t want to play anymore. But my family – my mom, my dad, and my brother – told me to keep working.”
Before Mercedes roared down the highway of baseball records, Chris Stynes had the most consecutive hits at the start of a season during the expansion era (1961-present). Stynes had seven in a row.
La Russa, already in the Baseball Hall of Fame, has a roster loaded with stars, including American League MVP Jose Abreu, but was quick to praise his latest.
“He’s putting us in great position to win,” said the 76-year-old La Russa, the senior manager in the majors. “He won one [Friday] and put us in great position to win again. I take my hat off to him, pat him on the back. Whatever it takes.”
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