ANAHEIM — Cesar Puello doesn’t have to play another game in his life. He’ll always have the Cesar Puello Inning.
In the fourth inning of the Angels’ 5-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday, Puello collected his first major league hit – a single that drove in Kaleb Cowart with the go-ahead run in a 1-1 game. With one out, Puello stole second base. With two outs, he stole third. He was stranded 90 feet short of scoring his first major league run when a Juan Graterol groundout ended the inning.
After 3,012 plate appearances over parts of nine minor league seasons, Puello needed only a few minutes to collect his first major league hit, his first RBI, and go 2 for 2 in stolen base attempts.
Puello had a .397 batting average, a .440 on-base percentage and a .620 slugging percentage at Triple-A Salt Lake when the Angels selected his contract prior to the series finale against Baltimore. He took the roster spot of left-handed reliever Jose Alvarez, who was optioned to Salt Lake.
Puello, 26, afforded the Angels a four-man bench for the rare weekday afternoon game. He started in left field, and Ben Revere moved to center field, with Cameron Maybin held out of the starting lineup. Mike Trout served as the Angels’ designated hitter in place of Albert Pujols, who is mired in a 1-for-25 slump.
In the second inning, Kole Calhoun was on third base with two outs, giving Puello a chance to drive in a run in his first plate appearance. After swinging through a pair of Kevin Gausman split-finger fastballs, Puello fought off a letter-high fastball. His inside-out swing was nearly enough to lift the ball into the outfield, but Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop leaped to snag the ball on the edge of the grass. Puello was 0 for 1.
In the fourth inning, Puello flashed the potential he showed early in his career as a New York Mets prospect, and more recently in Salt Lake. He lined Gausman’s 1-and-1 fastball back up the middle of the diamond at 97 mph – nearly decapitating the pitcher. Puello’s two steals were nothing new to those who have followed his winding career. The last two years at Triple-A, Puello was 36 for 43 in stolen base attempts.
But Puello did not realize his potential as a hitter until recently. He was released by the Mets in August 2015, having lost most of that year to a back injury. With the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate in 2016, Puello had a .283 batting average, a .413 on-base percentage and a .404 slugging percentage, yet…