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An Awful Lotta Ruben Tejada

Shocking [1] as it may have been to behold, Bartolo Colon [2] doubling in Anthony Recker [3] was less surprising than Ruben Tejada [4] emerging as the Mets’ full-time third baseman. Anthony Recker being on second for Colon to double in was rather stunning in and of itself — Recker was 0-for-13 at Citi Field before the bottom of the second Sunday, whereas Colon was 1-for-8 — but not as surprising as Tejada being anointed permanent as can be caretaker of the position [5] that was supposed to be taken care of through 2020.

Anthony Recker played third base for the Mets before Ruben Tejada ever did and Anthony Recker is a backup catcher. No wonder Colon connecting for extra bases seems the least surprising aspect of Sunday’s win over the Marlins [6].

Will wonders ever cease? In Ruben’s case, we can only hope not. We can only hope that the six-year veteran who still looks and sometimes plays as if he was recalled last week maintains his latest brush with competence. Saturday he appeared alternately capable and overmatched at the hot corner. Sunday his defense didn’t directly result in any calamitous activity. As of Monday, he’s what Daniel Murphy [7], Eric Campbell [8] and Danny Muno aren’t after their respective auditions. He’s David Wright [9]’s long-term fill-in.

Until he isn’t.

Terry Collins saw enough hitting from the former occasional starting second baseman (2010-2011) and generally ensconced starting shortstop (2012-2014) to pronounce him the best possible if not his final answer to the million-dollar question of who wants to be the starting third baseman. If anything, Ruben’s a lifeline. He brought in the most runs on Saturday and he accounted for the winning run Sunday. His .724 OPS is outpointing both Curtis Granderson [10]’s and Michael Cuddyer [11]’s, which says more about them than it does about him. Either way, that’s his bat. When wearing his glove, Ruben never officially planted a foot significantly to the right of short until May 14, but that’s good enough for these Mets who are trying to get by and surge ahead simultaneously.

A team with obvious playoff aspirations would be shaking every tree, bush and shrub in hopes of landing an experienced third baseman to pick up the enormous slack left behind by Wright’s bout with spinal stenosis. Perhaps that process is occurring below radar as we speak. Maybe Sandy Alderson has another Kelly Shoppach [12] or Eric Young [13] up his sleeve. But he probably doesn’t. So I’m just going to assume Collins isn’t kidding when he says Tejada is it.

Sounds familiar. Tejada is both always and rarely it. Always refers to the fact that he sticks around and inevitably gets a chance to show his stuff, which is sometimes tantalizing, eventually limited. Rarely refers to, well, wasn’t Ruben Tejada going to make us stop grumbling that Jose Reyes [14] wasn’t here anymore? Wasn’t he the reason Wilmer Flores [15] was taking up Triple-A studies at second base? Wasn’t he theoretically reborn as a defensive replacement?

Now he’s been Ray-Knighted the starting third baseman for a team that holds a Wild Card spot through nearly a third of a season and somehow remains but a half-game behind the Nationals for first place. It’s a credit to Tejada that he finds ways to make himself convincingly useful. It’s less so to the Mets that when one day is done and the next is about to begin, they rely on Ruben Tejada to more than temporarily succeed David Wright.

I’m reminded of the summer of 1989 when the Mets struggled to make a legitimate playoff push, held back by (among other disappointments) the failure of Gregg Jefferies [16] to ignite. Jefferies was handed second base after a great September in 1988. They gave him every conceivable shot to keep it. He lost it anyway. The position fell to perpetual utilityman — and future David Wright agent — Keith Miller [17]. Keith seemed steady; the Mets got hot. Praise be, Keith Miller was the answer! Keith Miller was the starting second baseman!

That lasted a little over two weeks, or roughly the extent of the Mets’ active participation in the 1989 pennant race. Which isn’t to say Tejada won’t give the Mets a longer-lasting solution. It’s Tejada’s track record that indicates this is nothing but the most graspable straw within Collins’s reach. It’s not like they’ve given Terry all that many tall straws to grasp at.

Ruben Tejada, you’re our starting third baseman. Congratulations old friend/young man. You’re it. Good luck to you. Good luck to us.