Thursday, July 21, 2011

Appreciating Carlos Beltran

In early 2005, after Pedro Martinez had signed with the Mets, most doubted that Carlos Beltran would soon follow. He was a sweet swinging, switch hitting, 27 year old gold glove center fielder. The Mets and their fans wanted him badly. One night in January, while I was at a friends house keeping one eye on the Jets Playoff game (I'm a Giants fan), I followed the Beltran developments like a madman: He was going to Houston. Wait, now he's undecided. Now he's deciding between Houston and the Mets. Houston won't give him a full no-trade clause...Beltran is a Met.

The Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran signings were the two moves that pulled the Mets out of the abyss. Without conducting research, I can't conclusively say that most Mets fans didn't appreciate Carlos Beltran enough - but that's the feeling I always got. To many, he wasn't boisterous enough. Didn't say enough. Didn't do enough. To me, he did it all.

Beltran didn't have the greatest debut season in 2005, but what I remember from that year is Carlos hitting one high off the right field scoreboard at Shea. I remember the ridiculous home run robbing catch he made against the Angels at Shea - an inning before Marlon Anderson's inside the park home run tied the game in the 9th, two innings before Cliff Floyd hit one of the most memorable walk off home runs ever in the 10th. A home run that left me rolling around on the ground in celebration in front of my seats in Section 22, Row A of the Loge. I remember screaming in horror when Beltran and Mike Cameron smashed into each other in the outfield later that season. And I remember the team telling Carlos to take the rest of the year off, only for him to return and play the remainder of the year with broken bones in his face.

From 2006 to 2008, Carlos Beltran was incredible - eclipsing 112 RBI's each year. 2006 was the year of the walkoff for the Mets, and Beltran delivered the most memorable one in extra innings against the Phillies. In the NLCS, he won Game 1 with a home run, and led the team to a win in Game 4 with two more. Yet, all anyone wants to remember about that NLCS is the called strike 3 he took with the winning runs on base in the bottom of the 9th in Game 7. I was there. It was a crushing end to what could have been a magical year. But the Mets would've never made it to that game if Beltran hadn't almost single-handedly won two games in that series by himself. And the curveball he took for strike 3 was a nearly unhittable pitch. More glaring in that inning was Randolph not bunting with runners on 1st and 2nd and no one out. But everyone needs a scapegoat - and Carlos was it.

Both 2007 and 2008 ended painfully for the Mets - with the team getting eliminated from contention on the last day of each season at Shea. In 2008, though, Beltran gave the old place one last jolt with his game tying 2 run homer. As "Twist and Shout" blared, Beltran rounded the bases and disappeared into the dugout as I and everyone around me went berserk. I'll never forget that moment. Even in defeat, there are great memories that will never go away. Especially for those who were there that afternoon.

Carlos Beltran dealt with a multitude of injuries during the 2009 and 2010 campaigns, leading many fans to classify him as soft - a notion that was and always will be completely absurd. This year, he returned and showed what kind of player he can still be.

When all is said and done, Carlos Beltran will be remembered for being one of the best players the Mets have ever had - and perhaps one of the top two all around players in the history of the franchise. Carlos Beltran was a leader, usually by example. Once he got comfortable in New York, he would constantly take young or struggling players under his wing. He always played hard. Always played hurt. Always carried himself with dignity and class. Too often, people misconstrued his lack of emotion for lack of caring. The relaxed demeanor was just how Carlos was. He didn't often let his guard down. However, if you look at his face after some of the at bats where he delivered, the smile is there. The emotion is there. Carlos cared just as much, if not more, than the other 24 guys.

If today was Carlos Beltran's last home game as a Met, that's simply a damn shame for all of us who have grown to love and respect how he plays the game. I wish I could've been there. I wish we all could've filled the place and given him the rousing ovation he deserved. Those who were there did their best, but it wasn't enough. Hopefully, Carlos knows how much we appreciated him. If he comes back to Citi Field this year or next in a different uniform, I'm confident we'll give him the long-lasting ovation he's earned.

Thanks for everything, Carlos.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Reyes Injury Conundrum

Six days ago, Jose Reyes was removed from a game against the Yankees at Citi Field. After watching replays of his activity on the field during the game, it wasn't evident when or if he had actually hurt himself. Was Reyes simply being extra cautious in a contract year, not wanting to push himself on a hamstring that didn't feel perfect that day? After the Mets completed a thrilling comeback the next day, it was disclosed that Reyes had suffered a Grade 1 strain of his hamstring (the least severe grade, confirmed after an MRI), and that he would not be landing on the disabled list. Rather, he would fly to the West coast with the team in hopes of returning to the lineup mid-week.

Since then, what has happened has been a bit strange. On Monday and Tuesday, Reyes participated in limited activity. He walked on the treadmill, took grounders at short, and took batting practice from both sides of the plate. It appeared that he was progressing, and that his return to the lineup was a day or two away. On Tuesday, Reyes reported that his hamstring was feeling better and that he would attempt to run on Wednesday. Then, his agents stepped in. They requested for the MRI results to be reviewed by the doctor who performed Reyes' hamstring operation in 2009. Reyes' rehabilitation attempts were shut down - not by Reyes or the Mets, but because he had to wait for clearance from a doctor who was hand picked by his agents to review an already conclusive MRI.

To no one's shock, Reyes' agent's hand picked doctor recommended for Reyes to rest for a period of three weeks. The doctor didn't disagree with the initial diagnosis (Grade 1 strain), and didn't report that there was anything else wrong with Reyes. Instead of jumping all over what appears to be a clear move by Reyes' agents to err on the side of caution in a contract year, the beat writers (as expected) chalked this up as another "Met injury disaster" - which makes zero sense.

Let's review the events again:

-Reyes felt discomfort in his hamstring, and was immediately removed from the game on July 2nd.

-Reyes had an MRI on July 3rd, which revealed a Grade 1 hamstring strain.

-Reyes participated in light baseball activity on July 4th and July 5th, in hopes of returning to the lineup. Reyes himself stated that his hamstring was getting better, and that he would attempt to run on July 6th.

-On July 6th, Reyes' agents requested a review of the MRI and Reyes was shut down while he waited for the results.

-On July 7th, the doctor who reviewed the MRI (as requested by Reyes' agents), recommended for Jose Reyes to rest for a period of three weeks - while at the same time not disputing the initial diagnosis.

...Again, it's quite clear to me that Jose Reyes' agents stepped in to make sure that their prized client would take more time off than needed in an attempt to be extra cautious in a contract year. Nothing the Mets did raised any eyebrows prior to Reyes being shut down on July 7th.

Now, will this ploy by Reyes' agents come back to bite them (and Reyes) in the end? According to most who are familiar with Grade 1 hamstring strains, they heal in a matter of days - not weeks...which jives with the fact that Reyes came on the road with the Mets in an attempt to get back into the lineup quickly. Since Reyes' agents have stepped in, they have guaranteed that Reyes will miss no less than three full weeks (if Reyes returns the day he is eligible to come off the disabled list, which is doubtful). More likely, Reyes will miss around a month with an injury most believed would force him out of action for only a few days.

On the surface, it may seem that Reyes' agents are being prudent here. If Reyes returned too quickly and aggravated the injury, who knows how much time he'd have missed. However, by requesting a second opinion that forced Reyes out of action and onto the disabled list, his agents have now re-opened the conversation about how brittle Jose Reyes actually is (something that is overblown, but nonetheless out there). They've placed doubt in the minds of those who may potentially bid for Reyes' services after the season, most likely lessening the amount of guaranteed years and dollars Reyes will be able to earn from his next contract. And that scenario benefits the Mets, who badly want to re-sign him.

In the short-term, being without Jose Reyes is a huge blow for the Mets - who last night entered a stretch where they'll face seven All-Star starting pitchers in a row, before facing the Cardinals. Reyes will miss all of those games, making the task of hanging in the Wild Card race much tougher on the team. However, if you asked Sandy Alderson if he'd exchange a month of Reyes' services in 2011 in order to secure his services after the season for less years and dollars, I bet he would have happily signed up for it.