Angels beat Athletics in 11 innings behind rookie Cesar Puello’s pop
The 28-year-old rookie settled into a freshly assembled cubicle in the visiting clubhouse at Oakland Coliseum on Tuesday. As he slowly pulled on Angels-issued workout garments he hadn’t donned since spring training, a few players and clubhouse attendants stopped by to greet him and offer congratulations.
Cesar Puello, a journeyman who was 17 when he was signed out of the Dominican Republic by the New York Mets nearly 12 years ago, had been granted only brief major league opportunities during his long and winding career. Those who approached the soft-spoken outfielder understood the magnitude of his latest call-up.
A day later, in the lineup because Mike Trout was recovering from fouling a ball off his foot, Puello made the most of his chance in the Angels’ 11-inning, 12-7 defeat of the Oakland Athletics. He went three for six and hit his first career home run in his first big league game since Oct. 1, 2017.
“I’m just thankful to God,” Puello said in Spanish. “I’m happy to have helped the team win.”
His bases-loaded single in the first inning split the right-center-field gap just deep enough to send home two runners and give rookie starter Griffin Canning, who yielded one run on a solo homer and scattered two other hits in six innings, an early lead. Those were the first RBIs of Puello’s career.
It wasn’t long before Puello added two more, drilling reliever Yusmeiro Petit’s 90-mph fastball into the left-field stands 416 feet away.
“That ball he hit was crushed,” Canning said.
As the Angels (26-29) escaped the Bay Area with a second straight win and a more palatable record than the one with which they arrived, Puello’s success was augmented by the heroics of fellow rookies Luis Rengifo and Jared Walsh. Rengifo absolved Kole Calhoun of a base-running blunder in the ninth inning by smacking a tiebreaking double. Walsh blooped an RBI single for a 7-5 Angels lead. After Hansel Robles, the Angels’ de facto closer, blew a save and sent the game to extra innings, the Angels mounted a five-run rally in the 11th.
Puello scored the first run of the decisive inning after reaching base on a hit-by-pitch, another highlight in a day full of firsts.
“I couldn’t be happier for him,” Calhoun said. “Really came through today.”
Puello played 10 years in the minor leagues before getting his first crack at an MLB roster in 2017. The Angels, who came across Puello when he became a minor league free agent in June of that season, designated him for assignment after one game. The Tampa Bay Rays picked him up off waivers and kept him on the roster through the end of the season.
But Puello, a rising prospect for the Mets when he was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs in 2013 as a result of the Biogensis investigation that also caught Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun in violation of MLB’s drug policy, didn’t stick with the Rays. He spent 2018 toiling in the Pacific Coast League, first playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ affiliate before signing a new minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants.
A minor league free agent for the sixth time in his career last winter, the Angels signed him in late November in an under-the-radar transaction. His time with the club in spring training was understated, too, but Angels officials watched him closely in the event an occasion presented itself.
Months later, after posting a .941 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and collecting 27 RBIs in 42 games at triple-A Salt Lake, Puello finally made waves with the Angels.
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