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Remembering Orlando Cepeda. Plus, Dwelling Run Derby modifications and Wyatt Langford makes rookie historical past

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We say goodbye to Orlando Cepeda, Ken checks in on the Red Sox, the Home Run Derby is changing (again) and we have some rookie history from Wyatt Langford. Scroll all the way to the end to see a play I can’t stop watching. I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!

Remembrances: Saying goodbye to Orlando Cepeda

Orlando Cepeda (aka “Baby Bull,” aka “Cha Cha”) passed away Friday at 86.

Willie Mays, who passed just 10 day earlier, was the biggest star on Cepeda’s Giants teams. He was there 10 years before Cepeda arrived — which just so happened to be the first year the team played in San Francisco.

While Mays was the bigger star, Cepeda held his own in the wake of the generational talent, winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 1958 before becoming an 11-time All-Star (albeit in seven years — there were two games per year from 1959-1962).

He was just the second Black Puerto Rican to make the big leagues, after Roberto Clemente of the PiratesClemente and Cepeda were two of the forerunners of the large Latin presence in MLB. Cepeda was the first Puerto Rican to be voted to start an All-Star Game, and was later — in 1973 with the Red Sox — the first player to sign a contract as a full-time designated hitter.

His trade to the Cardinals (for pitcher Ray Sadecki) in 1966 still makes “worst trade” lists. Sadecki had a good career but only provided 3.1 bWAR for the Giants in three-plus years. Cepeda was worth 11.0 in just two-plus seasons, winning the 1967 NL MVP award with the Cardinals before he was traded to the Braves for Joe Torre.

Even Mays was disappointed to see him go, saying later that it was “one of my saddest days in baseball.”

Ken’s Notebook: Why the Red Sox could be buyers

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that someone other than John Henry owned the Red Sox, and that owner was hellbent on accelerating the team’s stunning progress — 44-39, 1 1/2 games back in the race for the third wild card — instead of fretting over how it might stall.

What’s the first thing that owner would do? Throw Craig Counsell money at Alex Cora. That’s right, ignore the talk from Cora about not wanting to negotiate during the season. Drop a $40 million offer on him, and see how quickly he snaps to attention.

What’s the next thing our owner would do? State, unequivocally, that the Red Sox are buyers ahead of the July 30 trade deadline, further persuading Cora to stick around. Sure, there is a chance the team could collapse in the next month, as demonstrated by its two lopsided losses to the Padres over the weekend. No matter. The expanded playoffs are a gift that keeps on giving for teams that actually try, a six-month lifeline.

Season-ending injuries to shortstop Trevor Story and right-handers Lucas Giolito and Garrett Whitlock should have crushed the Red Sox, whose $171 million Opening Day payroll was the franchise’s lowest since 2014. Instead, the team is in the postseason conversation thanks to its improved pitching and wave of athletic young talent. And first baseman Triston Casas, who has been out since late April with torn cartilage in his left rib cage, is expected back after the All-Star break.

Cora made his feelings known last week, telling reporters, “I know we’ve been talking about the wild card and all that stuff — hey let’s get greedy. … This brand of baseball, I think we can maintain how we’re playing. Let’s not settle for the third wild card, let’s go higher and see where the season takes us.”

In today’s game, where teams constantly hedge, staring at their playoff odds and hoarding their beloved prospects, such talk is unusually bold. For the Red Sox, who were largely inert the past two deadlines under Chaim Bloom — “Honestly, we didn’t get better,” Cora said. “We just stayed the same.” — it’s practically a radical manifesto.

Bloom, who since has been replaced by Craig Breslow, deserves credit for developing much of the young core, and also a trade for which he was heavily criticized — Christian Vazquez to Houston for Wilyer Abreu and Enmanuel Valdez. For all anyone knows, he might have pushed ownership to spend this past offseason, sensing the team was ready to move forward. Instead, the Red Sox veered away from chairman Tom Werner’s pledge to go “full throttle,” largely waffling again.

Derby Details: Another HRD format change

The Home Run Derby format is changing again.

In the event’s classic format, players were given a certain number of “outs” — swings that did not result in a home run — each round. The problem: Sometimes guys would get hot, hitting so many home runs in an earlier round that they wilted in the final.

In 2015, the league went to a timed version, with small variations yearly through 2023. This was certainly more fast-paced, but also led to players speeding up to get more chances, and — again — wearing themselves out.

So, starting this year, it’ll be a hybrid:

  • First round: Players will get 40 pitches or three minutes, whichever comes first, with one timeout allowed. There will be no bracket in round one, with the top four hitters advancing. After the initial period, players will also get to swing as many times as they can until they get three “outs” — deep breath — unless they hit a ball farther than 425 feet, in which case, they will earn one extra out. Tiebreakers will be determined by the longest home run.
  • Second round: Back to the bracket! Players will be seeded based on first-round results — 1-v-4 and 2-v-3 — but everything else stays the same as the first round.
  • Third (final) round: Everything remains the same except the limit will be 27 pitches or two minutes.

How do you feel about the format? I think it feels like added complication for not much change. Forty pitches in three minutes is still one pitch every 4.5 seconds (4.44 in the final round). Last year’s timed version also allotted three minutes for the initial round, so I went back and timed the first two hitters. Randy Arozarena averaged 3.20 seconds between pitches and Adolis García averaged 3.47.

Will an extra one-ish second between pitches make a big difference? Maybe. But surely there’s a simpler way. How about 30 pitches, with a 10-second (SORRY, EVERYONE) “pitch clock” between them? Ten-pitch swing-off if there’s a tie in the final? While the field hasn’t officially been announced yet, Gunnar Henderson did spill the beans that he’ll be taking part during his in-game interview on “Sunday Night Baseball.” That feels right.

Rookie History: Langford caps big month with cycle

It had already been a successful game for Rangers outfielder Wyatt Langford by last night’s eighth inning. The bat had done good work, sure, but it was his speed that had turned a double into a triple, a single into a double and made an infield single such a sure thing it didn’t even draw a throw.

But when Langford launched a low line drive over the left field wall in Baltimore, he became the first Rangers rookie to hit for the cycle since Oddibe McDowell in 1985. He also became the first player in MLB history to hit a grand slam, an inside-the-park home run and hit for the cycle in his rookie campaign.  

About a year ago, Langford was playing in the College World Series with Florida. By Opening Day this year, the No. 4 draft pick was in the big leagues, and it seemed like every predictions column tapped Langford or Jackson Holliday of the Orioles to be the AL Rookie of the Year.

Holliday … uh, no. Langford also got off to a cold start, hitting just .224 (.588 OPS) before hitting the IL with a hamstring strain in early May. But while the rest of the Rangers offense has — at least until last night’s 11-2 win — sputtered to a standstill, the rookie has roared back, hitting .312/.373/.538 (.911 OPS) with three home runs, three triples and six doubles in the month of June.

The reigning champs are currently eight games out in both the AL West and wild-card races. But this hot streak bodes well for the Rangers in the future.

Handshakes and High Fives

After last week’s exhaustive five-part “Missing Bats” series, the crew took questions for a mailbag on the topic.

As the gap between Triple A and MLB widens, Cody Stavenhagen asks: Is the minor league reset fading away?

The Nationals are calling up top prospect James Wood.

Keith Law scouts Rintaro Sasaki and says there’s still work to be done.

Max Fried versus Paul Skenes was all we hoped it would be, and more.

Knuckleballer Matt Waldron’s Fenway debut didn’t go how he wanted, but — as Steve Buckley tells us — he still found a way to channel his mentor Tim Wakefield.

The San Francisco Giants’ pitching situation is dire, but they got a pick-me-up on Sunday from Spencer Bivens, a reliever who was, a few short years ago, pitching in France and the Czech Republic.

Did you see the ball boy who saved Shohei Ohtani from getting smoked by a foul ball?

Angels catcher Logan O’Hoppe is coming into his own as a team leader, says Sam Blum. That also gives me an excuse to show you my favorite play of the last month or so:

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(Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

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