Carlos Beltran and Me
July 21, 2011 1 Comment
The first, the emergence of the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is a team that hasn’t had a winning record at the end of the season since 1992. 19 seasons. But, the Buccos are ON TOP of the National League Central standings, ahead of the Cardinals, Brewers and Reds. This is why its silly to make pre-season predictions on where teams will finish.
The second, the power of the Eastern division teams. In the American League, the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are all fighting for what appear to be two play-off spots (the Wild Card is likely to come out of the East). While in the National League, the Phillies are dominating everybody with the best record in baseball and the Atlanta Braves are building a huge lead in the Wild Card as they have caught fire, too.
While those stories are nice, I must once again focus on the trade deadline and my New York Mets. Back in April, I sat down in front of my computer and wrote about a potential break-up between my fanhood and shortstop Jose Reyes. Well, since then, Jose Reyes has become the most exciting player in baseball, and quite possibly the most valuable. The Mets couldn’t afford to trade him, and no team could afford to acquire him. Signs are beginning to point towards a future extended stay in Flushing for Reyes, and I am happy as a clam.
Though that is good news, something else has begun to dawn on me:
The departure of right fielder Carlos Beltran.
You see, any Mets fan’s relationship with Beltran is one full of misconceptions, extreme highs and devestating lows. When the Mets signed Beltran in the winter of 2004 to his monster seven-year, $119 million contract, us Mets fans were stunned. Couple that signing with Pedro Martinez’s contract, and for the first time in what felt like centuries, there was brewing excitement. Beltran even coined the phrase “the New Mets”, which became a marketing tool for the team.
Before I go any further, let me remind Mets fans of my generation of one thing that I think they’ve overlooked greatly in evaluating Carlos Beltran’s Met career. Beltran’s seven year stay in New York is easily the second-most successful seven year period of my Mets fanhood, behind only the Bobby Valentine years of 1996-2002. Yes, I am taking into account losing Game 7 in the NLCS in 2006, blowing late leads for playoff spots in 2007 and 2008, the crapshoot that was 2009 and even the meaninglessness of 2010.
Remember, the Mets don’t have much success. Period. They have a total of SEVEN playoff appearences. Four of those appearences happened before I was born. So the fact that the Mets won a division with Carlos Beltran as the team’s MVP that year HAS to mean something.
Ok, now that I got that out of my system, back to my point. Beltran’s first season in New York was, for lack of a better term, a disappointment. There were high hopes for the team, but Beltran scuffled as he adjusted to the bright lights of the big city. He hit .266 with 16 home runs (seemingly only in games started by Pedro Martinez) while driving in 78 runs. People were quick to call him soft and not tough enough for New York. But, they also forget that the man played in 151 games that season even after bashing his face into Mike Cameron’s face in easily the worst on-field collision I’ve ever seen on a baseball field.
Then, after the Mets added the likes of Carlos Delgado and Paul LoDuca in trades, it was Beltran that led the charge for the Mets as they dominated the National League all year long. Beltran hit 41 home runs, drove in 116 runs, won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and finished fourth in the MVP balloting. Even with his success, Mets fans probably remember Beltran’s 2006 as leaving the bat on his shoulder as Adam Wainwright dropped in a devastating curveball to advance the St. Louis Cardinals to the 2006 World Series, which they would win.
Side note: Why do Mets fans blame Beltran for this loss? I never understood it. I watched the same game as they did. To me, you look at Jose Valentin grounding into a double-play with the bases loaded after Endy Chavez made his orgasmic catch first. Then, why does Willie Randolph use a crippled Cliff Floyd as a pinch-hitter with a runner in scoring position? Lastly, it was Aaron Heilman’s hanging change-up that Yadier Molina ripped into the visitor’s bullpen that gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead in extras. Going even further back, what the hell was Guillermo Mota thinking in Game 2 when he served up that cheesecake to Scott Spiezio?! Alright, I digress. Not Beltran’s fault. End of story.
2007 and 2008, I feel like Mets fans forget the success Beltran had due to the team’s overall collapse. Beltran averaged 30 home runs and 112 runs batted in that year, while receiving his second and third Gold Gloves as a Met. But, Beltran’s body started to betray him in 2009 (though every Met had his body betrayed in 2009). And in 2010, Beltran made the decision to have microfracture surgery on his knee seemingly without the Mets permission, having him miss the majority of that season as well.
Looking back at everything, I strongly believe Carlos Beltran will go down as the most underrated Met of all-time. He did it all for the Mets, and he made it seem so effortlessly and easy. In the end, its that ease to the game that made him seem lazy or soft. Unfair, I say!
When Carlos Beltran ever comes back to Citi Field wearing a different team’s uniform, I will always remember Beltran for 2006. I can list you my favorite five Mets games I’ve ever attended in person with ease (I’ll save you the time). On that list is a game from late August in 2006 when the Mets played the St. Louis Cardinals.
The game was touted as a match-up between the two favorites for the MVP, Beltran and Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. By the third inning, Pujols was getting the best of the Mets, smashing two home runs and seven runs batted in to give the Cardinals a 7-1 lead. However, after a Carlos Delgado grand slam made it 7-5 going into the bottom of the ninth, the Mets began to rally. Jose Reyes drove in a run to bring the Mets within one and with two outs, it was Beltran who came walking to the plate.
Looking back at the highlights later, Gary Cohen said on the broadcast “one swing of the bat could win it for the Mets..” Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen’s next pitch was a cutter that never cut and Beltran drilled it off the K Board for the walk-off homer. It was a no-doubter. The second it hit the bat, my dad and I both knew the Mets just won maybe the most thrilling game of the 2006 season. My long-time Met game buddy Ted refers to that game as “the game he should’ve went to” (my dad was originally supposed to work and offered his ticket to Ted, but called out and decided to go himself. Ted hasn’t let it go.).
That will be my image of Carlos Beltran. Walking to the plate to the rhythms of “El Esta Qui” day in and day out. His level swing crushing the pearl into the dark of night. Beltran was a cornerstone in what was one of the more entertaining periods of Mets baseball. No, they didn’t get the ring I was hoping for. But, Beltran put the Mets back into the conversation for the first time post-Piazza. While David Wright and Jose Reyes got all the headlines, it was Carlos Beltran quitely leading from the back of the room.
I will miss Carlos Beltran. The greatest center fielder in New York Mets history. And I promise you, there won’t be another one like him any time soon.
Greg Kaplan is a writer and co-founder of Home Field Advantage
POST EDIT: I published this story at 8:39pm EST. At 8:40, Carlos Beltran connected on a two-run home run to tie the game at 4 against none other than the St. Louis Cardinals. Something about that seems very special to me.