MIAMI — The Mets were eager to help Monday night in the Marlins’ healing process, offering what they could with hugs and handshakes. But upon returning to work the next day, there was a renewed sense of urgency. They were anxious to get back to baseball, to resume the playoff chase, to strengthen their grip on the wild card.
And maybe to unleash a restored lineup that could be formidable in the days (or weeks) ahead, complete with a healthy Lucas Duda alongside a revived Jay Bruce and Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets’ irresistible force. Duda, fresh off a fractured back, delivered three RBIs while Bruce and Cespedes each supplied soaring two-run homers in Tuesday night’s 12-1 rout of the Marlins.
“I think we got back to business as usual a little bit,” Bruce said.
For the Mets, their cottage industry is clearing fences, and they once again relied on the long ball early to re-establish their footing in the postseason pecking order. Going deep is hardly unusual for a team that has now hit a franchise-record 214 home runs this season, out-bashing the ’06 bruisers, who smacked 200.
But there was a new, encouraging wrinkle to how the Mets inflicted their damage in bouncing back from Monday night’s emotionally-draining ordeal. For the first time, Bruce and Cespedes each homered in the same game, just as Sandy Alderson had imagined when he made that Aug. 1 deadline swap. As an added bonus, Duda — activated only a week earlier — drilled a bases-clearing double in the eighth inning to cement the rout.
“It’s nice to contribute and I’m glad we’re winning,” Duda said. “I think the more that I play, the more comfortable I get.”
With the return of Duda’s whip-crack bat speed, it won’t be long before he’s smacking homers again. In the meantime, Bruce hit a two-run, upper-deck shot off former Stony Brook ace Tom Koehler in the second inning to put the Mets up, 2-1. That was Bruce’s 31st home run overall, and with his streaky reputation, maybe he’s finding his power stroke just in time (6-for-14, two homers in his last four games). He’ll also discover that people can be very forgiving if he delivers a solid final week to push the Mets into the playoffs. That’s all it takes. Even after Bruce has been loudly booed at Citi Field — thanks to hitting .190 in his first 44 games since coming to Flushing — he’ll be welcomed back a hero if he sizzles down the stretch.
“I like where I am right now,” Bruce said.
Come September, we tend to get short memories. A few productive hits, a home run or two, and suddenly the previous ineptitude fades away. The Mets practically gave up on Bruce earlier this month, leaving him on the bench for all but two games last week at Citi as Michael Conforto seemingly began to gain some traction as a starter. The Mets’ primary goal, however, is to resuscitate Bruce, and Tuesday night’s tag-team assault with Cespedes is what Terry Collins has been hoping for the past two months.
Cespedes followed Bruce with a two-run homer — also his 31st — in the third inning, a blast that traveled an estimated 432 feet before appearing to collide with the bad acid trip of a sculpture that graces centerfield at Marlins Park. From our vantage point, it definitely cleared the two pink flamingoes, but fell a few feet short of the leaping sailfish.
Anyway, the significance was not lost on the Mets, who improved to 74-40 (.649) in games they leave the yard. They’ve also hammered 31 home runs in their last 21 games, and 49 in the past 31 — a healthy clip, especially for a team tuning up for a weekend trip to cozy Citizens Bank Park to wrap the season.
Should the Mets make the playoffs, their lefty-heavy lineup could be a concern beyond the wild-card game. And with Wilmer Flores’ return this season looking shakier by the day because of a bruised wrist, that certainly doesn’t help. But the Bruce-Cespedes-Duda trio could provide enough ammo to maybe cover for that weakness. The blunt instrument approach has carried the Mets this far. No sense overthinking it now.