CLEVELAND — Close your eyes Thursday night at Progressive Field, and the soundtrack transported you back to May or June, when Jay Bruce played for the other team in New York, at that ballpark in Flushing.
First, the thumping rap lyrics of Jay Z’s “PSA,” with the opening line, “Allow me to reintroduce myself . . . ” Then the loud crack of the bat, followed by the booming chant “Bruuuuce!”
But that sequence belongs to the Indians now, ever since they snatched Bruce out from under the Yankees by offering to pay the full freight on his remaining contract.
What a sobering turn of events for the Yankees in Game 1 of this Division Series as Sonny Gray — their marquee deadline acquisition — fizzled beneath the October spotlight and Bruce, the one that got away, demolished them almost single-handedly.
The Indians have so many weapons, yet it was the former Met, dangled in front of Brian Cashman seven weeks ago, who tortured them with a home run and three RBIs in the 4-0 victory.
“I’m very, very fortunate to be here,” Bruce said afterward. “I couldn’t have fallen into a better situation. For whatever reason, I ended up here. And this has been a blast so far.”
Between Gray failing to survive four innings and Bruce delivering a double, a two-run homer and a sacrifice fly, it’s a toss-up as to who stung the Yankees more. In our estimation, that would be Gray, because after Luis Severino’s one-out disappearing act in the wild-card game, the Yankees badly needed a pick-me-up from their rotation.
This is the scenario Cashman envisioned when he traded for Gray, who knew what was expected of him and seemed up for the challenge. Until he bumped into Bruce.
“It’s tough to put us in a hole that we weren’t able to climb out of,” Gray said.
Gray’s postseason debut for the Yankees felt somewhat hollow, and seeing Bruce do most of the damage made the night doubly tough to endure. Gray pitched only 3 1⁄3 innings, allowing three hits and walking four, with the big blow Bruce’s two-run shot in the fourth.
The only reason Bruce is wearing Chief Wahoo these days is because of his pending free agency at month’s end. If he were in the middle of a multi year deal, the Mets likely would have kept him, and maybe Game 1 — minus Bruce — would have turned out differently. But as long as Bruce remains property of the Indians, he’s going to be a thorny reminder of the collapsed trade talks between Cashman and his Flushing counterpart, Sandy Alderson.
The Mets wanted the Yankees to pick up the $3.7 million on Bruce’s expiring contract as well as provide a decent prospect in return, but Cashman balked at the idea, again illustrating why it’s so difficult for the crosstown rivals to make a trade of any significance. As soon as Alderson discovered the Indians were willing to fork over the cash, he shipped Bruce to Cleveland — a looming playoff obstacle for his Bronx buddies.
“As for me to come in and the transition be so seamless, I can’t imagine that happens every time or for everyone,” Bruce said with a smile. “And to walk into a situation like this is something that you don’t see very often.”
And the Indians, through their social-media arm, couldn’t wait to gloat about it. Soon after Bruce’s homer, they thumbed their noses at the Yankees by tweeting, “Jay Bruce is on our team because our owner wrote a check that competitors for Jay wouldn’t.”
No need for the plural there. We all know whom they’re talking about. And suggesting the Steinbrenners are cheap? Ouch.
Left unsaid was the party going on in Metsland, no doubt a happy place after witnessing their former player smack around the Yankees before dumping them in an 0-1 hole.
During the past week, the Mets lost a manager, a pitching coach and their 92nd game. In Bruce, their bitter fan base gained a rooting interest for these playoffs, and he gave them a rare reason to celebrate by crushing the Yankees.
“Good thing he showed up,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “because he drove in all our runs.”