For the better part of three years, Terry Collins did all he could to get the most out of Ruben Tejada. It was no small motivation, either. It consisted of the Mets' manager telling Tejada, every season, that he was the starting shortstop for now and the future. "I'm 0-for-3 with him," Collins said.
Fortunately for Tejada, the Mets' circumstances and finances do not dictate a three-strikes-and-you're-out policy. He got one more shot at redemption when Collins recently pleaded with him to help a foundering club. He responded with a big weekend, capped by the double that beat the Marlins, 4-3, Sunday at Citi Field. And he emerged with Collins telling him he is the starting third baseman.
"Right now he is," Collins said after his team salvaged one win from the three-game series. "He has earned it and, as we all know, he can do a lot of things when he's playing well, and right now, he's playing well."
Of course, if we have watched the Mets in recent seasons, we also all know that good play from Tejada can be a temporary condition. Still, the club is out of other options to replace David Wright until his back is better. So Tejada got a chance and didn't whiff on it. He went 5-for-12 with four RBIs in the series, including one key hit and one key RBI against Steve Cishek in the seventh Sunday.
With two outs and two on after the Marlins intentionally walked Curtis Granderson and his meager .234 average, Tejada laced a slider over the head of leftfielder Christian Yelich. The double broke a tie at 3 and sent the Mets off to the West Coast on a high note.
"It made me happy," he said, recalling the sight of the intentional pass to Granderson. "A big chance to help the team."
He was not the only helper. Bartolo Colon (8-3) pitched seven solid innings and had a key double that rolled to the left-centerfield wall, breaking a tie at 1 in the second inning.
At 42, Colon is a revelation and an inspiration, having tied the Mariners' Felix Hernandez for the major-league lead in victories. He epitomizes "keep your team in the game" with a decision in each of his past 23 starts (15 wins).
The day also featured a five-out save by Jeurys Familia and a home run by Wilmer Flores, the man who ultimately won the starting shortstop job from Tejada.
But Tejada's contribution stood out, mostly because Collins said that for the past three years, he "did not rise to the occasion." And lately, he rarely rose off the bench.
"It's a little bit tough when you come off the bench and take one at-bat,'' Tejada said after raising his average to .246. "But right now, I have the opportunity to play and I have to enjoy it and keep working hard."
Before the series started, Collins told Tejada: "Listen, at no other time the past couple of years did we need you more than we do right now. We're struggling here. We don't know when we're getting David back. You know how to play at this level. You've shown it. We need you."
The manager told reporters Sunday: "He stepped up."
Can he finally find his stride? Who knows? Tejada insisted he is not the type to get discouraged. "I come here early every day to take a couple swings, take ground balls at different positions. Stay in my routine. Stay focused," he said. "Stay focused and wait for the opportunity, like right now."