Two years later, Carlos Beltran’s eyes widen and his smile broadens at the reminder of his last postseason experience.
Fresh to the Houston Astros after being traded from Kansas City and headed for free agency, he batted .435 with eight home runs, 14 runs batted in and six steals in 12 games, against Atlanta and St. Louis.
After coming within a win of carrying the Astros to their first World Series, Beltran nearly returned to Houston. He chose a seven-year, $119-million contract with a no-trade clause with the Mets, however, and now he’s back in the playoffs, thinking about the last time he was there.
“There were times it was like, I couldn’t believe it,” Beltran said. “It didn’t matter who I was facing or what the count was, I felt like I had a chance to put the ball in play.”
After a relatively subdued first season in New York, Beltran carried a good stroke through most of 2006, hitting 41 home runs and driving in 116 runs.
The series could turn on the shortstops and leadoff hitters of the Dodgers and the Mets.
Rafael Furcal and Jose Reyes, both from the Dominican Republic, were at or near the top of many statistical categories among shortstops in the National League, including their shared .300 batting averages. Reyes stole a major league-leading 64 bases, Furcal led NL shortstops with a .369 on-base percentage, and Furcal finished with two more hits (196) than Reyes did.
Reyes, being six years younger, is quicker and more athletic in the field, but Furcal has the stronger arm.
“He does his thing, and I do my thing,” Reyes said.
And, about the arm?
“I don’t know,” he said, laughing. “Maybe him.”
Paul Lo Duca, one of the first Mets in the clubhouse Tuesday morning, arrived to find it already filled with reporters, a sure sign of the playoffs.
“Man!” he exclaimed. “Isn’t the Denny’s open?”
Like veteran teammate Carlos Delgado, Lo Duca has never played in the postseason. He was traded from the Dodgers two months before they went to the 2004 playoffs, and joined the Marlins nine months after their 2003 World Series championship.
It was as close as he’d come until Tuesday, standing 30 hours from Game 1 against the Dodgers.
“What was really cool was the lane they shut off on the [Long Island Expressway] this morning,” Lo Duca said with a laugh. “That was great.”
But, seriously ...
“I can’t tell you I slept all that great last night,” he said. “But it’s a good feeling. I’ve waited a long time for this.”
Mets starter Pedro Martinez is scheduled to undergo rotator cuff surgery Thursday. He is expected to miss about nine months. ... Cliff Floyd, who has fought recent ankle and Achilles’ tendon ailments, will start today in left field over Endy Chavez. He limps some, causing teammates to liken his gait to Fred Sanford’s, but he said, “I feel pretty good, so I’m going to go with that.” ... Beltran (quadriceps) and Delgado (chest) will play. ... Billy Wagner’s numbers in four playoff series with the Astros: 1-0 record, 7.71 ERA, no saves.