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Old friend Bartolo Colon brings mixed emotions for Mets

Bartolo Colon #40 of the Atlanta Braves reacts

Bartolo Colon #40 of the Atlanta Braves reacts to the fans prior to his third-inning at-bat against the New York Mets at Citi Field on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. Credit: Jim McIsaac

With the eagerly anticipated return of Bartolo Colon, one Citi fan expressed the sentiment of the entire ballpark Wednesday night by virtue of the sign he held between his outstretched arms.

Actually, the placard was more of a love letter. It read: “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

No need to mention Big Bart by name. Everyone knew the object of the guy’s adoration. And the affection remains so strong for the roly-poly Colon that Mets fans were willing to ignore his Braves road-gray uniform to reflect on the unbridled joy he brought to them during his Flushing days.

“To be honest, I do still feel at home here,” Colon said through an interpreter after the Braves’ 3-1 win over the Mets in 12 innings. “We’ve had a great kind of relationship.”

From the pregame video tribute — brought to a crescendo by last season’s memorable home run at Petco Park — until Colon’s final pitch, No. 80, to complete the sixth, the Citi crowd had mixed emotions. Enjoy Bart being Bart? Or noisily prod their Mets to ruin his homecoming?

Only the most devoted Colon fans went home happy after a terribly frustrating night for the Mets’ offense — iced early on by Bart himself. Despite turning 44 next month, Colon doesn’t look like he’s changed an ounce, from the robotic repeat of his darting two-seam fastball to his cartoonish, GIF-ready swings. Colon’s only run through six innings was Jay Bruce’s homer. He walked one, struck out six and was the lone player in the building to get a standing ovation — on his first stroll to the plate.

“I didn’t expect that,” Colon said, smiling.

DeGrom showed no mercy to his old pal, pounding him with sliders in an opening at-bat that ended with Colon taking a 95-mph fastball for strike three. The next time up, Colon grounded to short, jogged halfway to first, then circled back around the mound for the dugout — carrying his bat the whole way.

“Twenty years in the big leagues — he can do whatever the heck he wants,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “How can you not like this guy?”

Seeing Colon again rekindled the leftover emotions from his three-year stay with the Mets, a period when the 40-something hurler was the rotation’s innings-leader during each of those seasons. The floor for him was 191 2⁄3 innings last year, preceded by 194 2⁄3 and 202 1⁄3. Colon never made fewer than 31 starts, either.

With that, um, body of work, some might argue the Mets should have tried to bring the pitcher nicknamed Big Sexy back, especially with the fragile nature of their homegrown starters. The Mets paid him a total of $20 million for his first two years, backloaded to facilitate a trade they never made, then re-signed him for $7.25 million, a paltry amount for the stability he ended up giving them.

So why no 2017 reunion? At the time, it just didn’t make sense for either side.

“First of all, I don’t think Bartolo wanted to come back, given the pitching depth that we had, and continue to have,” Sandy Alderson said before the game. “I think given the number of pitchers, and the quality pitchers, that we had, he probably did not see himself necessarily as an everyday guy.”

The Braves certainly did, giving Colon a whopping $12.5 million to add gravitas to their rebuilding staff. As for the Mets, little did we know they were going to begin losing starters at the rate of about one a week since the end of spring training. Steven Matz was the first domino to tumble with a strained flexor tendon that will shut him down for three weeks, followed by Seth Lugo, who was diagnosed Tuesday with a small UCL tear that the Mets hope, for now, can be treated with platelet-rich plasma injections and rest.

Those are best-case scenarios, by the way. Alderson would rather not entertain the worst. After all, we’re supposed to be in the rainbows-and-unicorns part of the schedule right now. And life already is a little less fun without Big Bart around.

Bartolo Colon’s pitching line:

IP 6

H 2

ER 1

BB 1

SO 6

P/ST 80/53

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