Flushing, NY – Carlos Beltran was firm as to why he returned to the New York Mets lineup batting cleanup at Citi Field Tuesday evening. “Why not,” he said when reporters asked him if it would be better to sit out the remaining 25 games of the season. “I’m a ballplayer that’s what I do, what I get paid for,” he said.
Sidelined since June 22 with a bone bruise on his right knee, Beltran missed 70 games and was one of the many offensive threats in the Mets lineup that went on the disabled list. Prior to his injury, New York trailed first place Philadelphia by two games in the NL East.
His team is playing out the schedule and perhaps shutting down and preparing for spring training was a better option for Beltran. The bruise has not completely healed but it is good enough to do what Beltran does best, that is perched in his spot out in center field and becoming the offensive threat the Mets hoped to have in what has become a dismal season.
There he was, Beltran leading off the second inning. The announced City Field crowd of 37, 474, but much smaller because of the fans who decided to stay home, gave Beltran a nice ovation. He struck out swinging but his mission was accomplished after a long rehab process.
“It felt good being out there with the boys,” he said. “Today I felt like a kid in the playground, like when I take my daughter to the playground. She’s having fun and that’s how I felt today. It felt good.”
Beltran looked good running the bases as he lofted a double to left field leading off the sixth inning. Same result though, with or without Beltran in the lineup as the Mets lost the first game of three to the Florida Marlins 4-2. And Beltran almost became a hero in the seventh inning. His bases loaded fly ball to deep left was caught and the Marlins had their victory.
“I just got under that one,” he said. It has been missing, that long ball threat in the Mets lineup since Beltran went down along with Carlos Delgado. There was also a sliding catch in center off a ball hit by the Marlins Jorge Cantu in the eighth inning. Mets manager Jerry Manuel could be seen smiling after the catch but will be cautious when using Beltran for the remainder of the schedule.
Though Manuel and the Mets lost another one, it was a reprieve to see one of their regular guys back in the fold. “It will probably take him a few games to really find his rhythm at the plate,” commented Manuel. “I think once that starts he will get on track. He looked pretty good.”
Manuel thought that eighth inning drive to left would make it. “He gave it a pretty good ride,” said the Mets manager. But with the bases loaded this season and two outs the Mets are batting an abysmal .073. A healthy Beltran next season, along with David Wright and perhaps Delgado, or another potent hitter can make a difference with the bases loaded. For now though, having Beltran in the lineup again can bring some optimism during this dull September stretch at Citi Field.
Hanley Ramirez and Cameron Maybin supplied the runs for Florida hitting two-run homers off Mets starter Tim Redding (2-5) in the third and fourth innings. Florida, with the lowest team payroll in baseball stayed in the playoff hunt, six games behind the first place Phillies in the NL east division and 5/1-2 behind NL wild card leader Colorado.
“Probably the worst day I had command with a fastball,” said Redding who threw 102 pitches in five innings. “When you’re not locating your best pitch the other team knows that,” he said. Luis Castillo went 3-for-4 and his fifth inning single to second base, which allowed Angel Pagan to score form third, was his 38th infield hit which tied him for the National League lead with Michael Boum of Houston.
But the attention was on Beltran who could make the final weeks of the season a little more interesting for Manuel and Mets fans. And even more interesting if Delgado returns as expected next week.
Second game of the three game series Wednesday evening at Citi Field and Beltran is expected to be in the cleanup spot again. “The knee feels good,” said Beltran. And those are good enough words to hear for the Mets and their fans in what has been a season of all bad news.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]