NEW YORK -- Terry Collins called it "one of the worst things you can do as a manager," pinch-hitting for a player with the pedigree of Jay Bruce. Certainly, this was not what Collins or anyone envisioned when the Mets traded for Bruce on Aug. 1, hoping he could provide the same sort of spark Yoenis Cespedes did down the stretch last summer.
It hasn't happened. Unlike Cespedes, who earned the adoration of Mets fans and, ultimately, a fat new contract, Bruce has received little more than boos in Flushing. Collins did not allow Bruce's 0-for-3 performance in Tuesday's 5-4 loss to the Braves to become any worse than it already was, pinch-hitting rarely used reserve infielder Eric Campbell for him as the potential tying run in the eighth.
He hated doing it. Bruce hated it, too. But both men have reached the point where they understand none of that matters.
"He didn't need to explain it to me," Bruce said. "I obviously get how the game's played, and what his thought process was there. I don't deserve any explanation from the manager. He's the manager. He makes the decisions."
Said Collins: "My job is to try to win the game."
The decision to pinch-hit for Bruce was not something that came to Collins in an instant. This had been building over the course of weeks, as Bruce descended into what is now a 3-for-38 funk. Seeking to snap Bruce out of it, Collins removed him from the starting lineup Sunday and Monday, calling the latter benching a "mental health day." But Bruce appeared no more potent in his return to the lineup Tuesday, going 0-for-3 with two soft groundouts to first base.
Worse, he and Curtis Granderson allowed the game-tying run to score on a routine pop fly that fell between them in the sixth -- "no communication," was how Bruce described it.
And still, there was Bruce's chance for redemption unfolding before him in the eighth. With the Mets trailing by four, Granderson and T.J. Rivera both drove home runs to bring up his lineup spot. Braves manager Brian Snitker turned to a lefty at that point, Ian Krol. So Collins called Bruce back from the on-deck circle, asking the right-handed Campbell -- a .221 career hitter who had not logged a big league at-bat since May -- to replace him.
The move worked; Campbell grounded a single through the left side to draw the Mets within one before the rally fizzled. But it left both Collins and Bruce with sour tastes in their mouths.
"I definitely didn't draw it up like this, coming over here," said Bruce, who is batting .176 in 40 games as a Met. "It's been tough for me. But fortunately the team's been playing really well. We've been winning games. We're in a good spot when it comes to the playoff race. I'm worried about the team. I'm worried about winning games. I have plenty of time to think about myself. Right now is not that time."
For Collins, it may be. The manager described writing out his lineup card as a daily struggle, particularly with a vocal fan base clamoring to see more of corner outfielder Michael Conforto. Still, Collins insisted Tuesday that he has no plans to continue giving Bruce regular time off, as he has done throughout the veteran's slump. Bruce has a track record, Collins said. If the Mets are to hold off the Giants and Cardinals in the National League Wild Card race, they'll need him to draw on that.
"It's real easy to say, 'Well he's struggling, so I'm going to put this guy in,'" Collins said. "These are the guys who are supposed to do it. That's why they're here. That's their jobs."
So expect Bruce, who has hit more home runs than Cespedes over the past five seasons, to stay in the lineup. Despite Tuesday's decision to pinch-hit for Bruce, Collins still considers him a key to reaching October.
"I always think I'm the best choice," Bruce said. "I think everyone in this locker room does. But he's the manager and I respect his decision."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.