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Hessmania, Now Featuring Ruben Tejada

Amid an eighteen-run Met explosion [1], how could there not be a few bangs, pops and whiffs off the bat of the object of my offensive obsession [2], Mike Hessman?

The best news where Hessmania was concerned Sunday is the admission into Club Hessman — One Met Home Run and One Met Home Run Only [3] — of a 70th member, our second baseman of the present and future, Ruben Tejada.

While the Mets were scoring a month’s worth of runs yesterday afternoon, nobody was having a better year than Tejada, cramming what seemed like an entire season’s offense into this one game. The staggering five runs batted in on two hits and a sacrifice fly speak for themselves, but let us remember, if we can go back that far, that Ruben actually turned this game around in the fifth inning when it was still in doubt. The bases were loaded, the score was tied and the Mets were doing what they always do: nothing.

Lucas Duda struck out swinging. Josh Thole struck out looking (on a pitch Howie Rose grumbled was too close to take). This was Typical Mets, leaving ’em loaded, not taking advantage, preparing to fail…the whole bit. The Mets, as a team, were batting under .200 with the bases loaded for the season. Remember, batting with the bases loaded is supposed to be the most advantageous situation in baseball. The pitcher has to throw strikes. Strike are easier to hit than balls.

Can’t anyone here play this most elemental part of this game?

Young Ruben can. He looped a Ryan Dempster pitch into center field, brought home two runs and changed the trajectory of Sunday from a back-and-forth slugfest to an out-and-out mugging. If there was enough season left, I’d be tempted to put a pin in that hit as the turning point of 2010. As was, it placed us on the straight-and-narrow to a romp of a win, and when you don’t have nearly enough of those, you’ll take what you can get.

Ruben’s first major league homer, the punching of his ticket into Club Hessman, should also prove fleetingly memorable in that it sort of mirrored the hit that has kept Mike Hessman in Club Hessman. You’ll recall Mike should have two Met home runs, but his second, called gone on August 13, was video-reversed into a split-the-difference triple (and thus the legend of Mike Hessman, extra-base anomaly [4], was born). On September 5, Ruben hit a ball toward left, same general neighborhood at Wrigley where Mike launched his at Citi. And as with Hessman’s homer that became a triple, a fan reached out in an attempt to catch the ball. But at Wrigley, they have a basket atop the left field fence, so ultimately the umps weren’t fooled.

Since the ball bounced back onto the field and Ruben was new to this sort of thing, he kept running until he thought he had earned a triple — slid into third and everything. He hadn’t finished dusting himself off when Ted Barrett broke the news to him that he should get up and trot home. He’d achieved something 33.3% better than a three-bagger.

One guy, 20, hits what he’s sure is a triple and it turns out to be a homer, and it could be a significant step forward in a budding major league career. The other guy, 32, hit what he was sure was a homer and gets mangled into a triple and he remains Mike Hessman.

Nonetheless, let’s tip our cap to Mike the minor league home run king for being a part of the 18-run, 21-hit onslaught as our starting third baseman. Next time a Mets team scores 18 runs and somebody is tempted to look at the boxscore from 9/5/10, they’ll be surprised that the Met at 3B was not David Wright (the last time before this that the Mets scored 18 runs, at Arizona on 8/24/05 [5], the third baseman was David Wright and he homered twice). Mike Hessman may not have had quite been the trigger man Ruben Tejada was Sunday, but he contributed by doubling once, walking once, scoring once — and lining out hard once.

He also struck out twice, the only man on either side to do so on a day that featured 31 hits from all comers. Thus, Mike Hessman continues to do two things in excessive proportions: swing and miss a lot; and collect extra bases when making contact.

Which brings us to our next stops along the Mike Hessman Met Historical Tracker:

• Mike Hessman has struck out 17 times in 41 Met at-bats. The only Met position player to strike out that often in a sample no larger? Spare 1996 outfielder Kevin Roberson, who lasted 36 at-bats, striking out in 17 of them. He also managed three home runs in his brief tenure, including a three-run, ninth-inning tiebreaker of Dan Miceli at Pittsburgh that proved the winning margin on April 27, 1996. Roberson was given a brief shot at the starting right field job, but it didn’t take. The Mets could not settle on anyone as a full-time rightfielder for several months in 1996. Great to know how some things never change [6].

• Mike Hessman has collected 6 hits in 41 Met at-bats, 4 of them for extra bases. The only other Met position player with a comparable profile is 1990 outfielder Darren Reed. Reed’s Met stopover encompassed six games in May, five more in August and recurring appearances in the denouement of our not-quite ’80s dynasty that September. Darren’s dossier includes 39 Met at-bats, 8 Met hits and only 2 Met singles. Reed put up 4 doubles, 1 triple and, à la Hessman, 1 Met dinger (it came the day the Mets were eliminated from divisional contention). What makes Reed and Hessman baseball soulmates is they were each marvelous hitters when it kind of didn’t matter. Hessman, we know, has crashed 329 home runs in the minors (and, at the rate he’s going, will have the chance to Crash [7] more next year). Reed’s bailiwick was Spring Training production. Before he was traded to the Expos in early April 1991, Darren gave the Mets a .337 batting average, seven homers and 28 RBI in four Grapefruit League campaigns. He was named outstanding rookie in camp in 1989 — anybody else remember that the Mets used to give a watch to the winner of the John J. Murphy Memorial Award? — and drove in more runs than any March Met the spring he was shipped off, yet the big club could never carve out space for him.

• Yes, Ruben Tejada and Luis Hernandez are very recent Club Hessman inductees, but is this a long-term stay or just a layover? You enter the Club when you’ve hit your first Met home run because there’s no guarantee you’ll ever hit another. Obviously, certain contemporary Mets’ memberships loom as more temporary than others. We are hoping, for example, that Fernando Martinez makes it back to the bigs and hits at least one more home run in his Met life. He’s supposed to be able to do that, isn’t he? But what about our new pair of Hessmanites? Hernandez homered once in 221 at-bats as an Oriole and Royal before becoming a Met (but did go yard eight times for Binghamton and Buffalo this season). His long-term utility here is sketchy; seems like a guy who will require many more opportunities before he hits another home run. Best guess: Luis Hernandez stays in Club Hessman for the long haul. As for Ruben, whose previous flirtation with warning track power probably took place on a Little League field (nah, not really — he has eleven minor league homers since 2007), he’ll get more chances this year and probably next. I say another Met home run is in his future.

Ruben Tejada, whose OPS has only now surged to .494, projected to hit a second home run? Really? Listen, when the Mets score eighteen runs in one game, a Mets fan is entitled to go out on a limb.