Buttons are all over my floor, each of them having bust from pride at the news that both the National League Player of the Month and the National League Pitcher of the Month for April are New York Mets. It’s a monthly double not seen in these parts since Gary Carter and Dwight Gooden were kicking it old school in September 1985.
Congratulations to Jose Reyes and John Maine on their respective honors. Johnny we tipped our cap to a few days ago. Jose we are always kvelling from. The best part about Reyes? Other than he’s 23 and still learning? It’s that we make no bones about him. He’s not our secret weapon. He’s our trump card and we deal him straight from the top of the deck. When you can put Jose Reyes on the table and still have the “heart of the order” coming up, that’s something else.
As we speak, Jose Reyes is among National Leaguers…
• Tied for first in runs
• Tied for third in hits
• Tied for sixth in doubles
• First in triples
• First in steals
• Tied for twelfth in runs batted in
• Ninth in walks
• Ninth in batting average
• Eighth in on-base percentage
• Eleventh in slugging percentage
• Tenth in on-base percentage plus slugging percentage
• Most double plays turned by a shortstop
• Highest zone rating among shortstops (gets to a lot of balls)
Then there’s the Jose factor. You’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it. It’s the way Reyes’s speed, slashing, slugging and smarts can change any given game in the Mets’ favor, how he creates ordeals for the opponent and nightmares for pitchers. They fear him in the other dugout, even the other clubhouse. Sports Illustrated, in a story this week on the three N.L. East shortstops who are redefining the position (Reyes and two other guys), describes the Braves watching last Tuesday’s extra-inning affair between the Mets and Rockies, the one Endy Chavez — player of the millennium — won with the drag bunt. Tim Hudson, Pete Orr and Jeff Francoeur weren’t worried about Endy. They were dreading the ever improving Jose.
“They’re pitching to him!” Francoeur reported to his teammates. “Oh, man, this game’s over. All he’s going to do is chop one on the ground and beat it out.”
Actually the Rockies wound up walking him intentionally after Jose worked the count to three and one. Either way he got on base and the damage was in the process of being done.
Colorado pitcher Josh Fogg told SI the best you can hope for versus Reyes is damage control: “You’ve got to be cognizant of him, but you can’t let yourself get in such a funk that you make bad pitches to the next guy…Him standing on second might not be the worst thing. I can see him a little better at second base at least.”
Maybe Jimmy Rollins and Hanley Ramirez are impact shortstops somewhere in the vicinity of Jose Reyes’ level, but do either of them — or does anybody else — get a bigger kick out of the game? One look at Jose validates the Crash Davis cliché about being happy to be here. Nobody has ever appeared more gleeful on a baseball diamond, not even the willing targets of Morganna the Kissing Bandit. Some players smile. Many players think. Who else pulls off both with Jose’s brand of élan?
I’m thrilled the rest of baseball is sitting up and taking notice of the most unique Met of them all. We have some extremely talented and able players but they have comparable counterparts on other teams. Nobody has another Jose Reyes (except, technically, for the Binghamton Mets). He is at the very least the co-signature player of this franchise, 50% of the foundation of the new ballpark.
Around a year ago, Mets Weekly profiled Stitches, the Whitestone-based company charged with embroidering names on the backs of Met uniforms. The owner of the establishment invited viewers to come have a look at where and how David Wright and Pedro Martinez get their jerseys done up. Those were the only names he mentioned. He wouldn’t have been the only one to choose those two.
When I saw this segment repeated after the season, I thought how much and how fast things had changed. At this time in 2005, Jose Reyes’s name only arose long enough for him to be berated for not walking enough (ESPN.com’s Rob Neyer infamously referred to him as “one of the worst everyday players in the majors”). At this time in 2006, Wright and Martinez were the above-the-marquee players in these parts and Reyes was still grappling with getting on base.
Then came the balance of ’06, the explosive road trip way out west, the soccer-style serenading, the All-Star vote, the cycle, the three-homer game, the inside-the-parker, the Silver Slugger, the Japan tour…everything. When Fox was hyping the NLCS last October, they advised us to tune in for Albert Pujols and the Cardinals taking on Jose Reyes and the Mets. Not Carlos Beltran, not David Wright, but Jose Reyes. Like Jackie Martling always wished he could, Jose Reyes had gone national.
Now he’s gone to the head of the class in the National League. Well done young man.