The Bruce whose walk-off homer gave the Reds the NL Central title Tuesday night was the Bruce fans initially expected to be the next Ted Williams – roughly every night, thank you.
“It’s been some ups and downs for me, but I’ve battled,” Bruce said, blinking champagne from his eyes in the postgame clubhouse. “This is unbelievable. There’s nothing like it.”
From the time Bruce became the Reds’ No. 1 draft pick in June 2005, he was tabbed a future star. After hitting his way up and out of Triple-A in May 2008, Bruce provided immediate dividends by going 11-for-19 to start his major league career. Expectations flew off the charts.
Bruce returned to planet Earth and finished with a .254 average (21 homers, 54 RBI) his rookie year.
In 2009, Bruce had some wondering if he would ever make it. He hit .223 with 22 homers and 58 RBI, and also missed two months with a broken wrist.
Come 2010, Bruce again has been streaky. A midseason funk included a paltry July, when he had no homers and five RBI for the month.
But, Bruce since Aug. 1 is hitting .319 with 12 homers and 25 RBI. For the year, he is now at .275 with 22 homers and 66 RBI. Defensively, his strong arm and range have made him one of the top right fielders in baseball.
Was Bruce thinking homer on his game-winner?
“No, no, no, no,” Bruce said. “I was just trying to get on base. It takes 25 guys to do it.”
Manager Dusty Baker started Bruce on Tuesday, even though Bruce was 1-for-17 lifetime against Houston starter Wandy Rodriguez. Baker had sat Bruce when the Reds faced Rodriguez in Houston recently.
Bruce went 0-for-3 to start the game Tuesday, then pounded a Tim Byrdak pitch to Kingdom Come.
“Hey man, law of averages,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “Tonight it didn’t quite work, but I’m glad he was in there to face Byrdak and be a winner. Sometimes you’ve got to stick with guys. Sometimes people don’t understand that you’ve got to show faith in them, in order for them to grow and get better.”
That is Bruce, who at the ripe old age of 23 has been through plenty in the majors.
“I feel like I’ve learned a lot,” Bruce said. “The guys here, players, coaches, everyone has really stayed with me and stuck by me. I really appreciate that.