Over the course of a season, Jay Bruce went from the failing New York Mets to a team that has ripped off 22-straight games. Over the course of an extra-innings baseball game, Jay Bruce went from blowing an opportunity to tie that 22nd game, to winning the whole damn thing.
The Cleveland Indians knew they were getting a big bat when they traded for Jay Bruce last month, but could they have known the kind of redemption story they would be buying into? Did they think they were just acquiring the neighborhood milkman who could occasionally sling some lumber?
Bruce was generally a pretty good hitter with the Mets, slashing .256/.321/.520 in the first half of 2017 — power clearly there, but not a great on-base percentage to go with it. He was still a solid player, just in an awful, unwinnable situation.
On August 9, the last day Bruce played a game in a Mets uniform, his former team was 50-61, fourth in the National League West, and a full 16.5 games behind the dominating Washington Nationals. Injuries plagued the Mets as they have for the past two seasons, but Bruce’s bat remained steady. When the Mets were ready to part ways, they still couldn’t find a way to trade him for proper value, including a deal that reportedly fell through because the New York Yankees didn’t want to pony up a few million dollars. So instead, they sent him to the Indians for a Single-A reliever.
Bruce started on a tear with his new team, going 19-60 with four home runs and five doubles from August 11, his first start, until August 24. He played sparingly and not well over the next few weeks, including a stretch of games in which he went 4-for-44, but he played a huge part in the Tribe’s win last night. Depending on how long the streak goes, and how many more times they dare let a team enter the ninth with a lead against them, Bruce will forever go down as a the linchpin that saved the streak. The milkman that kept the dream alive.
But before he could redeem himself in-game, and redeem himself for several weeks worth of struggles, he had to fail. And fail he did in the eighth inning. With the bases loaded and one out, all he had to do was get a ball off Ryan Buchter into the outfield and the Indians could tie the game up and be one step closer to setting history with 22-straight wins. Instead, he popped up behind home plate on a ball that Salvador Perez tracked down with ease. Bruce went back to the dugout visibly frustrated with himself and slammed his helmet into its cubby before taking off his gloves.
Carlos Santana followed with essentially the same thing and walked back to the dugout just as frustrated.
In the ninth, Francisco Lindor played the hero that Bruce was supposed to be, doubling a ball to deep left that scored a freight train known as Erik Gonzalez who rounded all the way from first to tie the game. One inning later, Bruce got another shot at redemption. Runners on first and second, no outs, and Jose Ramirez just 90 feet away and ready to sprint at the first ball that lands in an outfielder’s glove. Bruce said screw the pleasantries and slapped a double to right to end it right then and there with no outs on the board. Progressive Field erupted, Jay Bruce has done it.
Bruce’s story with the Indians still has a lot to be written. What we actually remember about him on the team will likely be determined in October. If he is a total disaster in the playoffs, no one will care that he walked off a win in September. And if he gets re-signed (as Jose Ramirez wishes), his story will grow even further from there.
On a personal level, I have to feel that Bruce feels some kind of redemption, or at least relief, to be on a team like these Indians considering where he started the season. Who wouldn’t? And as a fan watching him, I couldn’t be more excited.