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Comebacks, Desired and Otherwise

He was a figure of renown in New York. He left the local scene in 2017. To the surprise of many, word spread a few months later that he’d be back in a big way in 2018.

But enough about Jay Bruce. Have you heard about Mike Francesa?

Hearing about Mike Francesa [1] is infinitely more interesting than listening to Mike Francesa, which sports radio aficionados will suddenly have the opportunity to do again very soon, apparently. If he were already back on the air this afternoon, he’d lead with anything but Jay Bruce of the New York Mets hitting the tenth-inning go-ahead home run that put his first-place club in position to win in St. Louis Tuesday night. He’d lead with the NFL draft or the Yankees or “this crazy weatha’,” because reflexively dismissing the Mets is what Francesa would reliably do all those years he held forth on the FAN…which is why we haven’t really missed listening to him.

Bruce we didn’t miss much once he was traded to Cleveland last August because we all understood the circumstances. We weren’t going anywhere, he hadn’t been here that long, he wasn’t going to be back. It was all very tidy business. Then the tides of the baseball business sent him back to us in January [2]. You think Francesa was barely gone before he orchestrated his return? By playing on Opening Day, Bruce’s gap between discrete Met tenures measured 52 games. Only Greg McMichael (32 games) and Kirk Nieuwenhuis (45) took shorter breathers. The wait between the last game the Mets played, on Saturday, and getting back on the field Tuesday night after a rainout and an off day felt longer.

Watching Jay Bruce hit is infinitely more interesting than listening to Jay Bruce say much of anything, but the Mets didn’t lure Jay back for afternoon drive. Driving in a couple of runs every couple of nights is plenty. That was what he did at Busch Stadium, first on a fall-down triple in the second (Marcell Ozuna fell, not Jay), then on that game-changing homer in the tenth. By touching them all, Mike Matheny’s delusional protestations aside, Jay put the Mets ahead, 6-5, the score by which they held on to win [3], the score by which the Mets won Game Six of the 1986 World Series as well. That victory was a certified miracle. This victory, like Bruce’s return, classifies as merely unexpected — and quite pleasant.

When Jeurys Familia nailed down the shockingly stressless save, Bruce and his fellow outfielders unostentatiously removed their caps and shook hands. A nice, quiet acknowledgement of success from three fellows whose seasons thus far have veered between pretty nice and a little too quiet. Tuesday’s home run was only Bruce’s second of 2018. The first was a grand slam to wreck the Nationals’ Home Opener. Bruce’s production (perhaps hampered by his plantar fasciitis) has been a wreck ever since. Even with three hits at Busch, he’s batting just .222, with room for improvement. Michael Conforto, who homered in that same game in Washington, hasn’t hit, either. Walks a ton when cleverly taking; languishes at .204 when deciding to swing. And the outfielder you can’t miss, Yoenis Cespedes, is looking up at Conforto. He’s wallowing at .195.

Cespedes is having a horrendous season except for those intervals when he does things nobody else can, which, with the Mets in first place partly on the strength of his timely feats of luck, skill and strength, indicates he’s having an impactfully good year. Coming into Tuesday, Yo had struck out 37 times in the Mets’ first twenty games. Yes, that is a lot. That is more than anybody has ever struck out in his first twenty games. Plus he struck out two more times in Game 21.

Funny, nobody noticed that Tuesday night, just as nobody can take seriously those recurring attention-seeking takes that mysterious Cespedes and his occasionally backward hat constitute a net Met negative. I don’t know how you measure that. I also don’t know how they measure how far and how deep Cespedes’s home runs travel, but they do. The three-run, game-tying rocket Yoenis blasted off Luke Weaver in the fifth inning Tuesday was said by Statcast to have journeyed a distance of 463 feet at a speed of 115.1 miles per hour at a launch angle of 25 degrees. Yes, that is a lot. It added up to “OUTTA HERE!” which is the metric that matters most.

Cespedes came back to the Mets twice when they thought he was gone. He never actually left for another team, but coming back is always a welcome Met theme. It’s worked in more than one Game Six. It’s working regularly in 2018. Among the salient details I’ve gleaned: the Mets have the most come-from-behind victories (10) in the National League; the Mets have the most wins (4) after trailing through seven innings; and the Mets didn’t bother leading the Cardinals until extra innings Tuesday night yet won anyway. They also apparently lead the league in scoring from first on a double and second on a single, which may be a Met-aphor for a team’s requisite determination to keep coming back.

In the realm of continuing to stay ahead, the Mets remain a first-place team. The Phillies, who seemed fairly comical under the initial auspices of Gabe Kapler, have since been sprinting. It took Fernando Salas (3-1) and the Arizona Diamondbacks to slow them Tuesday night, pushing them a game-and-a-half behind the Mets. The Braves, who we saw were no joke over the weekend, trail our team by 3½. The whatchamacallit Nationals are 6½ to the rear, which wouldn’t be worth noting but for the inconvenient fact it’s April and being in first place in April clinches nothing, just as being in fourth place in April eliminates nobody.

Caveat: being in first place at any juncture of the schedule is indisputably preferable to all possible alternatives.

To maintain our status atop the standings, we will need more of the best of Bruce and Cespedes; some hitting to go along with the walking from Conforto; additional doses of yeoman effort à la Paul Sewald (another two scoreless innings, yet zero major league wins still); escapes when necessary, like that conjured by Robert Gsellman (threw a double play ball to slip loose of towering trouble in the ninth and thus earn the win that raised his record to 3-0); better starts from Zack Wheeler (four innings of getting whacked around); and anything at all out of Matt Harvey (clearly not yet born again [4] despite his reincarnation as a reliever).

It’s April, but it’s been a long season already. Maybe that’s from starting in March. Maybe that’s from too many off days and rainouts. Maybe that’s from the concurrent senses that things are going great yet things could be going better. Maybe that’s from ballplayers and broadcasters re-entering our consciousness so soon after notably exiting it. Twenty-one games played, 141 to go, the next one tonight.

Back afta’ this.