What benching? Bruce's surge lifting Mets

Star outfielder homers in 3rd straight game after struggling in first month with NY

What benching? Bruce's surge lifting Mets

PHILADELPHIA -- Mets manager Terry Collins made one of the two toughest decision a manager can make, by his estimation, when he pinch-hit Eric Campbell for Jay Bruce 10 days ago.

The Mets were trailing by two with Bruce, at the time mired in a 3-for-38 slump and batting just .176 as a Met, coming to the plate as the tying run. The Braves inserted left-hander Ian Krol to face Bruce and Collins called upon Campbell, who delivered an RBI single.

The move paid off in the short term. But Collins risked more than a plate appearance. He was "immensely" worried about losing the trust of Bruce and with it, the clubhouse.

"There's a lot of people in that clubhouse that are in his corner," Collins said. "The one thing you can't do is lose the clubhouse. You can't lose the player, if you can help it, and you can't lose the clubhouse."

On Friday, Bruce homered and drove in three runs in a 3-for-4 effort, leading the Mets to a 5-1 win over the Phillies that dropped their magic number to one. It punctuated a six-game run for Bruce that started with a pinch-hit home run last Saturday and has seen him collect 10 hits in 20 at-bats -- four of them leaving the yard.

The Mets hope -- need -- that punctuation acts only as a comma, not a period.

"Jay Bruce has said, 'Look, I'm gonna get it going.' And he has. And I salute that," Collins said. "He came at the right time, when we needed him. Hopefully he can stay hot from now on."

Standing at his locker after his third consecutive game with a home run, Bruce was wearing a white tank top emblazoned with the face of last year's late-season hero, Yoenis Cespedes.

The Mets believed they were making a similar addition to the middle of their lineup when they traded for Bruce at this season's Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline. But whereas Cespedes cemented himself an NL MVP candidate in the final two months in New York, Bruce's OPS fell more than 80 points before Collins benched him -- his words -- for four games.

Collins believed Bruce's struggles were closer to that of Neil Walker, whom he sat for stretch after his average fell to .237 in late July. Walker hit .426 in 24 games after returning to the lineup, until a back injury ended his season.

"This is a different dynamic than it was in Cincinnati; it's a different place to play," Collins said. "This is really a very similar situation I think to Neil, that I let him get away from things for a bit and clear his head and go back to what he does.

"That's just, 'See the ball and put a good swing on it.'"

Bruce certainly put a good swing on the ball he poked the other way and over the left-field wall. Just as he's been doing since returning to the starting lineup. And just as the Mets need him to do into and throughout October.

"Let me tell you, he's a star," Collins said. "And stars don't like to be embarrassed. They don't like to be benched or sat down or anything else. But again the one thing he did say was he said, 'I'll do anything to help the club.' And he is right now. He's doing everything to help the club."

Evan Webeck is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.