The rumble in the stands would not cease. The drizzle had thinned out the crowd on a chilly Wednesday night and Citi Field sat only a quarter full. But the noise was enough for Jay Bruce to sense in the dugout.
Instincts implored him to stay put. His teammates insisted otherwise. This was Bruce’s reward for sparing the Mets from a night of misery against the Phillies.
“I don’t believe in must-win games in April,” Bruce said after swatting two homers and knocking in all of the Mets’ runs in a 5-4 victory. “But this one was a good one to get.”
Bruce homered in the sixth and in the eighth. Both times, he put the Mets in the lead. The second one prompted the curtain call, which doubled as an exercise in alternate reality.
“It’s great to see him applauded for the effort tonight,” said Terry Collins, whose team ended a four-game losing streak.
Bruce spent the latter half of last season as a target in his own home park. He elicited the most ferocious boos, despised for faltering following his trade from the Reds. When the winter came, those same fans clamored for the Mets to ship Bruce out of town. They tried.
The Giants and Orioles expressed interest, but according to a source, the club that came closest to acquiring Bruce had been the Phillies. It would have made sense. Though squarely in rebuilding mode, the Phillies had the money to absorb a chunk of Bruce’s $13 million in salary. He would have been a prime candidate to flip for prospects had his bat come to life.
Of course, the trade never happened. Bruce remained in New York, where he had been labeled as the new Ed Whitson, unable to produce in the spotlight. This season, he’s carrying the Mets.
Bruce went 3-for-4, raising his average to .309. His six homers are tied for the team lead with Yoenis Cespedes.
“I’m just playing ball, trying to be a part of this,” said Bruce, who wore a bejeweled crown and silk blue boxer’s robe trimmed in orange, the Mets’ way this season of honoring the player of the game.
Yet it wasn’t easy for the Mets, who watched a pair of starters leave with injuries. Both first baseman Lucas Duda and catcher Travis d’Arnaud missed a large chunk of last season with injuries. Neither finished this game.
Duda departed with a hyperextended left elbow on an awkward collision at first base. D’Arnaud left with a bruised right wrist suffered when his hand struck a bat while following through on a throw to second base. “As the night progressed, it started tightening up, so I said something,” d’Arnaud said.
Collins said Duda’s range of motion was encouraging following the game and that d’Arnaud’s injury might be confined to just soreness. But he can’t know for sure until Thursday.
On the mound, Robert Gsellman halted the momentum from a rough stretch to begin the season. He allowed three runs in seven-plus innings, becoming the first Mets pitcher to reach the eighth this season.
“The depth on the sinker was better than the last two starts,” said Gsellman, who lowered his ERA to 5.09.
But it was Bruce who made the effort worthwhile. The Mets trailed 2-0 in the sixth when Phillies starter Vince Velasquez left a changeup for Bruce to mash. His three-run homer gave the Mets the lead.
In the eighth, Michael Saunders served a run-scoring single to left off lefty Jerry Blevins, tying it at 3 and costing Gsellman a win. But Bruce answered once more. After Cespedes singled off Edubray Ramos, Bruce launched his homer over the fence in right.
Bruce equaled his career high with five RBIs, the first time he had done so with the Mets. It was his second multi-homer game of the season, both against the Phillies, who made a push for Bruce late in the offseason. The second inspired a curtain call, his first in New York.
Said Collins: “I think it shows that the people respect that he’s a good player.”