Ruben Tejada has finally found his niche, and is thriving in it
When the season began, there isn’t anybody on the planet who believed Ruben Tejada would be coming up with big hits to help the Mets win baseball games.
Let alone down the stretch of their first truly meaningful season in the standings in seven years.
But Tejada, who much like many of his teammates, has thrived this season in a role which limits his exposure. And on Wednesday night against the Phillies Tejada did something for the club which hasn’t been done since Angel Pagan did it over five years ago.
He hit an inside-the-park home run, the first one in Citi Field history and the 27th in club history.
“I’m thinking I got a hit first and when I saw him in the stands I ran as hard as I can to get on third base and wait for [Tim Teufel’s] sign to either send me home or stop me there,” Tejada explained about his home run.
Brown later left the game with concussion-like symptoms after he dove into the stands in an effort to catch what really was a lazy flyball off of Tejada’s bat.
Manager Terry Collins wasn’t sure what was transpiring from his vantage point in the Mets dugout.
“I couldn’t see a thing. I can’t see a thing from where I stand,” Collins said. “I knew the ball was going to drop in and then I heard the crowd roar and I thought maybe the kid fell into the wall. I didn’t see him go out until I saw the replay.”
Tejada isn’t exactly fleet afoot. In fact, during spring training, Collins joked that he thought he could beat Tejada in a foot race.
But it was a memorable moment for Tejada, who has dealt with fending off doubts about his skill set and play more often than he’s enjoyed success at the big league level. He said it was the first time he had ever hit an inside-the-park home run.
But perhaps more significant for Tejada and the Mets, his home run drove in two runs and gave the Mets a 3-0 lead at the time, providing Matt Harvey – who fell ill during the game with weakness and dehydration – some necessary breathing room against the Phillies.
“He’s a really good player,” Collins said after Wednesday’s game.
Of course, that’s up for debate, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good at what he’s doing in this role.
And there’s no arguing Tejada has most certainly taken major strides and embraced his role and opportunity with the Mets this season.
Tejada has been particularly good away from Citi Field, hitting .300/.385/.393 in 43 road games this season.
But overall, he’s come a really long way in a relatively short span of time. Tejada was really an afterthought at the beginning of the year, overlooked by Wilmer Flores at shortstop who was (and still is) the inferior player from a defensive perspective. But the Mets clearly doubted Tejada’s ability to play everyday and thrive on either side of the ball, so they relegated him to a part-time role, primarily serving as the shortstop for when Jon Niese – a groundball specialist – is pitching.
That’s still primarily the case today regarding Niese’s starts, but Tejada has earned himself more playing time due to his improved approach and results at the plate.
Remember, he was the heir to shortstop when Jose Reyes left, shoes which only a few players in the league could fill. Ultimately, it’s just not who Tejada was, and he found himself failing more than he was succeeding, much to the disappointment of his manager.
But now, Tejada – who is still only 25 years old – generally looks like he’s finally found his niche after four years of being asked to be something he’s not. And for the Mets right now, he is finally proving to have legitimate value on the roster.