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Bruced Feelings

Thirty-thousand of us were dying to be hypocrites Tuesday night. We wanted to pull one of those dazzling Asdrubal Cabrera [1] spinoramas in our souls, execute a spectacular turn of sentiment and roar for the stranger at whom we’d been directing our derision loudly or slyly every time we saw him. Some of us preached and practiced patience, but patience, like the battery in your phone, can run low. It needs a charge. So did any of the pitches Julio Teheran [2] delivered to Jay Bruce [3] in the bottom of the sixth. Put a charge into one, Jay. You’ll see what a renewable resource our faith in you can be. You’ll feel it. You’ll never forget it.

It was 2-1, Braves. There were two out. Bruce was battling his erstwhile Red ass off. Ball one. Foul. Ball two. Another foul. Then another. Then ball three. A couple more fouls. I don’t remember which one clanked off the right field upper deck, but I do remember thinking that if he’d hit that in Cincinnati for Cincinnati, it would have been fair.

Nothing’s been fair for Bruce since he became a Met. He was a country mouse contentedly piling up slices of pasteurized RBIs in relative private. He was leading the National League in a traditional prestige category. It wasn’t helping the Reds and it wasn’t impressing the statsnoscenti, but it looked good on the back of a baseball card.

Then he was asked to craft some semblance of what he did for Cincy in New York, transferred midseason from a team wallowing at the bottom of its division to one clinging to a strand of Wild Card hope. It was getting late for the Mets. Jay Bruce could help them make up time and make up ground.

Bruce has indeed been on the Mets as the Mets have forged forward in their race. Bruce’s presence has been mostly coincidental. It’s become impossible to hide his lack of productivity. He was already 0-for-2 on the night and he didn’t contribute on defense when a ball fell between him and Curtis Granderson [4] in right-center. The center fielder is a right fielder. The right fielder is still new to the terrain. Nobody called it. One run that was going to score anyway had the ball been caught scored, but no outs were made, which led to an additional baserunner and a second run. The Mets trailed, 2-1, in great part because Curtis and Jay didn’t want to step on each other’s toes.

It was Granderson’s responsibility. It was Bruce’s catch. Or it would have been had he caught it.

You could forgive Curtis. Curtis has a track record here. Curtis has won games for us. Jay has earned demerits. We could erase a whole bunch of them if this epic at-bat against the terroristic Teheran went where we wanted it to go. We could embrace Bruce if he could work through all those fouls and lean into a pitch and put it on the scoreboard. It’s usually folly to request a home run as opposed to “just get good wood on it,” but this is Jay Bruce, New York Met, we were trying to get behind. We needed airtight motivation.

We got a grounder to first on the ninth pitch. Third out of the inning, umpteenth out in the Met career of a lost soul who’s nice-guyness is neither in dispute nor of surpassing relevance. Nice guys often finish first or at least with one of the two best non-first place records in the National League. We’re rooting for a passel of nice guys who return our affection by now and then coming through for us.

We’re still waiting on Jay Bruce to be a part of that. We’re just not doing it very patiently anymore.

Next time Jay Bruce was due up, he was disappeared from the on-deck circle. We saw Eric Campbell [5] instead. Eric Campbell used to be Jay Bruce to us, except without the bulging portfolio. We usually cringed at the sight of Eric Campbell. C’mon Terry, we begged during difficult swaths of 2015 and 2016, don’t you have somebody better than Soup? At this juncture of ’16, when so much is on the line and we’ve barely noticed the continued proximity of Eric Campbell to the rest of the Mets, we have bigger fish to fillet. How can we deride the use of Eric Campbell against a lefty when the guy he’s replacing in the critical eighth inning of the crucial 151st game of the year is Jay Bruce?

It may have been the gutsiest move Terry Collins has made in six seasons of managing the Mets. Or it may have been as logical as any of hundreds we don’t give second thought to. Collins has seen Campbell succeed against lefty pitching. He hasn’t seen much of that from Bruce.

The sixth should have been Jay’s redemption inning. Nine pitches. Good swing after good swing until a completely ineffectual swing. The eighth was no longer about Jay Bruce breaking loose. We had been down, 5-1, and about as dead in the game as we were in the season a month ago. But the pulse stirred. A one-out walk to Cabrera, whose face should be on currency because he’s so money. Yoenis Cespedes [6] was grazed by a pitch. Granderson, who again proved he is more than a fleeting defensive communications miscue, doubled, scoring Asdrubal and sending Yo to third. Folk hero T.J. Rivera [7]’s sac fly sent Cespedes home. The Mets, out of it, are in it. It’s 5-3.

In 506 — where we had moved in an effort to escape the divebombing gnats of 505; instead we encountered additional gnats plus a kid who just discovered Thunderstix — the scenario for which Rob Emproto and I had braced when we considered the lineup was at hand. “This is gonna come down to Bruce,” we told each other. Our projection had come to pass. Yikes.

No, not yikes. Soup. Soup instead of Bruce. All I could think was, boy, do we miss Wilmer Flores [8]. Yet I held out hope for Campbell because a) he just became a papa, and that’s usually worth one feelgood hit; b) some number exists proving he smacks the bejeesus out of the ball even if he rarely gets on base as a result; and c) if you’re going to be grateful to be spared any more Jay Bruce, you’d better get behind his replacement.

Campbell had himself a seven-pitch at-bat versus Ian Krol [9]. It didn’t run as long as Bruce’s in the sixth against Teheran, but it ended better: a sharp single into left, scoring Granderson. Now it was 5-4 and anything was possible…even Kevin Plawecki [10] batting for James Loney [11].

Boy, do we really miss Wilmer Flores. Some games [12] Terry seems to have any number of viable options ready to deploy. Some games his basket of deployables is disconcertingly shallow.

Pinch-hitting fever had taken hold and was spreading like a tarpulin. Plawecki got good wood on the ball. Such good wood that it was hit too hard for Adonis Garcia [13] to handle at third. After Garcia had yet again been a three-run pain in our rear, he owed us something. The ball caromed into left field. Soup poured it on and raced to third. We had two on, two out and Travis d’Arnaud [14] due up.

Travis d’Arnaud is the Jay Bruce of catchers. His agent can use that in contract negotiations, but it’s not a compliment. I would have welcomed another substitution right then and there. Krol was still on the mound. I would have taken my chances with Matt Reynolds [15]. We were no longer standing still for hitters who couldn’t hit (Bruce at all, Loney against lefties), so why stop? Granted, as fans we reflexively model what Lily Tomlin said about children’s stated aspirations, which is that if we all became what we wanted to be when we grew up and managers did what we incessantly demand, we’d live in a world filled with nothing but firemen, cowboys, nurses, ballerinas and pinch-hitters.

Nobody subbed for d’Arnaud. Travis got lousy wood on the ball and grounded out to short.

Eventually, despite everything that went wrong, the Mets got the game to exactly the spot we wanted it once there were two out in the bottom of the ninth: a runner on, Cespedes up as the winning run. He struck out. Nobody booed, and only one crank in the men’s room line was heard to dismiss his entire 2016 with “he’s had a shit year.” Cespedes can be forgiven. He, like Granderson, has a track record here.

Afterwards, as the Mets positioned themselves to drop [16] into a three-way tie with San Francisco and St. Louis for the two National League Wild Card berths, Terry did his best Laurence Olivier rending fabric from his garment in the remake of The Jazz Singer as he explained how saddened he was by having to prevent his ostensible marquee right fielder from batting for himself in the most pressing game situation the Mets encountered all night. “It’s one of the worst things you can do as a manager, to pinch-hit for a star,” Collins emoted, “especially one of the elite power hitters in the game.” The manager then praised his elite star power hitter for stepping aside like a pro.

It was, to date, the highlight of Jay Bruce’s Met career.