KANSAS CITY -- The ball was hit with some velocity, but its vector was perfect: right at Yoenis Cespedes, nothing to fear. No one had reason to think otherwise. Not with Cespedes, who received a Gold Glove last year for his work in left field -- not center -- back patrolling his old stomping grounds for a night.
But the routine play in the first inning of Sunday's Opening Night game became anything but when Cespedes settled under the liner and clamped his glove shut, only to watch the ball deflect off the leather and fall to the turf. Reaching base on that error, Mike Moustakas eventually scored the Royals' first run in what became a 4-3 Mets loss.
"It was shocking as anything," manager Terry Collins said. "It surprised everybody."
Perhaps everybody but the Royals, who not so long ago parlayed a Cespedes misplay in center field into the first run of the 2015 World Series. The degree of difficulty on that October play was certainly higher, and the positioning was different on Sunday, with Cespedes starting in left field to accommodate Juan Lagares' superior glove in center. But the point remains: If the Mets have one significant weakness on paper heading into 2016, it is team defense. On Opening Night, the Royals exploited it.
"The ball just fell, you know?" Cespedes said. "I'm human."
During a clipped postgame news conference, Cespedes offered several versions of that same answer through an interpreter, none of them more than a dozen words in length. When asked for the first time about the play, Cespedes said simply, "The ball just fell out of my glove." When asked about the parallels to Alcides Escobar's inside-the-park homer in Game 1 of the World Series, Cespedes replied that every game is the same.
Yet not every night offers a chance at redemption. Cespedes found his in the top of the ninth inning, after David Wright struck out with men on the corners and one out. Trailing for almost the entire night, the Mets had clawed within one run of the Royals an inning earlier, on Lucas Duda's two-run single and Neil Walker's RBI fielder's choice. Kauffman Stadium had become pin-drop quiet, until Wright's strikeout reignited the decibels.
For eight pitches, Cespedes battled against arguably the game's best closer, Wade Davis, fouling back multiple pitches. But when Davis threw a two-strike fastball several inches off the plate, Cespedes swung through it, ending the drama that his earlier mistake had helped create.
"We just couldn't put a big hit on the board," Collins said. "You can't give them too many opportunities."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.