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Tough Love Is the Best Love

What if the secret of making the Mets better is being mean to them?

No, not by forcing them to play a new position, letting them rot on the bench, warming them up too often and not putting them in a game, not putting them in a game for weeks, letting injuries linger without DL stints, or ignoring their minor-league stats and concluding they’re platoon players. The Mets have tried all those strategies with their charges, and the results have been predictable.

No, I’m talking about us — the fans sitting on the couch at home or in the Citi Field seats. Generally accepted wisdom holds that the Mets cannot hear us yelling at their images on TV, or pick out our dismayed exclamations from the crowd when we’re in attendance. (Physics is in general agreement on this point.)

But obviously the conventional wisdom is wrong and classical physics needs some retuning, because I’ve got irrefutable evidence to the contrary in the recent performances of Jason Vargas [1], Kevin Plawecki [2] and Jay Bruce [3].

The return of recidivist Met Vargas to New York after 11 years away has been a nightmare, leaving us to grumble about Vargas taking starts from … well, anybody else and the fact that we’re stuck with another year of not wanting to look at him. His biggest contribution to the 2018 club, perhaps, has been pairing up with Jacob deGrom [4] to convince traditionalist Met fans that pitcher wins are a dopey stat: the record books insist Vargas won 18 games for the Royals last year, an obvious typo that a startling number of conspirators swear to be fact.

But you knew that. What you might have missed is that since Greg introduced Mets fans to the Vargas Index [5] earlier this month, Vargas — or Vargy, as his players-weekend motley bills him — has gone 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA.

On Friday night he was NOT AT ALL VARGAS, throttling the Nationals over six innings. It was easily his best start of the season and we can just as confidently call it his best start as a Met, given his Metdom during the Shea Stadium era consisted of a bad start and a horrific one.

Plawecki came up with enough hype to get dubbed the Polish Hammer, which started as praise (admittedly of an aspirational sort) but became more likely to cause a neighboring fan of that ethnicity to demand to know whether you’re being funny or what. I soured on Plawecki this season, tired of watching him look useful during garbage time but useless the next year.

In our house, Plawecki has been known since late July as Tits, which deserves some explanation. It started with a moment of frustration: I asked anyone listening to rank the following items in order of uselessness: Plawecki, Jose Reyes [6], and Tits on a Bull. Thus was a nickname born; shortened for routine use, it became something I’ll have to remind myself not to blithely yell at Citi Field.

But a funny thing has happened to he of the nonfunctional bovine parts since late July: he’s hit two homers and collected 13 RBI. The batting average isn’t good — .225 since his remonikering — but the production is passable, and so the nickname has not only stuck but been crowed with affection from time to time. As it was when Plawecki collected two hits against the Nats.

Then there’s Bruce. His return to the Mets (on a three-year contract, oh goody) has been wrecked by plantar fascitis; typically, he played 10 weeks of ineffective baseball before the team finally sent him out to get better. His return to action Friday wasn’t exactly greeted with hosannas, certainly not by me — I can conservatively name four players who deserve playing time in right field or at first base over Bruce, and so registered his name in the lineup with a vague grumble and a weary shrug.

Yet it was our prodigal son who turned a 1-0 Met lead into something far more comfortable, clubbing a two-run homer in the eighth to give Robert Gsellman [7] breathing room and keep Bryce Harper [8] and Ryan Zimmerman [9] from batting as the tying run. Gsellman got through them both, putting the game in the win column [10] for the Mets. (And dropping the Nats once again below .500, neener neener neener.)

Vargas, Plawecki and Bruce. Hmm, maybe we need to be even meaner about Reyes.