NEW YORK — This was exactly the kind of situation the New York Mets got Jay Bruce for — late innings, hoping for a home run. Except now, manager Terry Collins felt as if he had no choice but to pull the All-Star slugger for a pinch hitter.
Yanked for a guy who hadn’t gotten a hit in the majors since May and was batting .159, at that.
Collins’ strategy worked — Eric Campbell delivered an RBI single in a three-run eighth — but the Mets’ rally fell short Tuesday night in a 5-4 loss to the Atlanta Braves.
“Very difficult. First time I’ve ever been pinch hit for,” the badly slumping Bruce said. “I always think I’m the best choice … but he’s the manager and I respect his decision.”
“He didn’t need to explain that to me,” he said. “I obviously get how the game is played and you know what his thought process was there. I don’t deserve any explanation from the manager.”
The Mets lost to last-place Atlanta for the second straight day. The defeat dropped them into a tie with St. Louis and San Francisco for the two NL wild cards.
Bruce still ranks among the NL leaders with 29 home runs and 91 RBIs, but has struggled mightily since the Mets got him on Aug. 1 from the Reds for two young players.
“The market, as you know, this is not Cincinnati,” Collins said.
Out of the starting lineup for two days as a mental break, Bruce returned and went 0 for 3, leaving him hitless in 12 at-bats and in a 3-for-38 rut.
Bruce is hitting only .176 with his new team. The deal certainly hasn’t turned out like the big trade last summer that brought Yoenis Cespedes, boosting the Mets into the World Series.
“I definitely didn’t draw it up like this. Coming over here, it’s been tough on me. But fortunately the team has been playing really well, we’ve been winning games, we’re in a good spot when it comes to the playoff race,” Bruce said.
“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,” he said.
Mets nemesis Julio Teheran pitched seven more sparkling innings and left with a 5-1 lead.
After Curtis Granderson hit an RBI double and T.J. Rivera had a sacrifice fly, it was 5-3 with two outs and a runner on second in the eighth. That’s when Collins pulled Bruce and sent up Campbell to face lefty Ian Krol.
“It’s one of the worst things you can do as a manager, to pinch hit for a star, especially one of the elite power hitters in the game. But you know, my job is to try to win the game,” Collins said. “In my opinion, I know he’s struggling, I know he’s had struggles with lefties.”
“I think he’s extremely frustrated,” he added. “I know I talked to him about it. … He’s always had the ability and now he has the chances to, hey, just go out and play. And as I told him, this is a different situation here.”
The Braves have the worst record in the NL, yet have a four-game winning streak. They beat the Mets for the second day in a row and have won five straight at Citi Field.
Teheran (6-10) gave up five hits and left with a four-run lead. Dating to the final time he saw the Mets last season, he’s 3-0 with a 0.73 ERA in five starts against them.
Jim Johnson pitched the ninth for his 16th save in 19 chances. He struck out Cespedes with a runner on first to end it.
Robert Gsellman (2-2) lost in his fifth major league start. The rookie took a 1-0 lead into the sixth before a misplayed flyball cost him.
Atlanta loaded the bases with one out and Matt Kemp lofted a catchable fly to right-center. Granderson and Bruce both backed off at the last moment and the ball fell for a single, giving Kemp his 100th RBI.
“Jay, obviously, being the right fielder, is waiting for me to say something on that situation. I didn’t and by the time I pulled up it was too late,” Granderson said.
Mets SS Asdrubal Cabrera reached base five times — two singles, a double and two walks — for the fourth time in his career. He last did it in 2011 with Cleveland.
Mets: LHP Steven Matz (shoulder tightness), sidelined since Aug. 14, possibly could start Friday night at home vs. the Phillies. … INF Wilmer Flores (wrist) got another injection Monday. Collins hopes for a speedy return.
Braves: RHP Ryan Weber (1-1, 5.46 ERA) is set to make his second start in the majors this year.
Mets: RHP Bartolo Colon (14-7, 3.14) leads the team in wins. The 43-year-old is 5-1 with a 2.21 ERA in his last nine starts.