If you wanted an early indication that 2008 will be psychologically different (and who among us doesn't want that?), you can't get more of an early indicator than Carlos Beltran, of all people, giving the Philadelphia Phillies bulletin-board material.
After a fairly typical, mild-mannered give-and-take with reporters, one taken from the G-rated part of the hymnal Crash taught Nuke on the bus, Beltran said the following: “Let me tell you this: Without Santana, we felt as a team that we have a chance to win in our division. With him now, I have no doubt that we're going to win in our division. … So this year, to Jimmy Rollins — we are the team to beat!”
I couldn't have been more surprised if David Wright showed up smoking cigarettes and packing a switchblade, or if Pedro had hid from reporters and issued a statement through Jay Horwitz that he'd be content to be in the mix for the fifth-starter job. This is Carlos Beltran, whose most-demonstrative statement in his Met career has been not doing something — referring, of course, to the famous April 2006 evening in which Beltran, steaming over a season's shabby treatment by the fans, refused to acknowledge their sudden demand for a curtain call until Julio Franco all but carried him onto the field. (Say what you will of Franco's later failings, but Beltran and all of us owe him big-time for helping arrange a second act in Beltran's orange-and-blue life.)
The Mets themselves seemed a bit taken aback. Wright went into custodian-of-the-game mode, saying February talk was cheap before hurriedly realizing this was Beltran and recasting his words as a sign he'd step up. Willie Randolph rather charmingly offered: “Wow! I guess when you have a little baby girl you get a little confidence.” Jimmy Rollins hasn't shown up to camp yet (slacker), but across the state Charlie Manuel paid respects to Johan Santana and then grunted that players should “let Louisville do the talking.” (By which he presumably meant “other players,” since it was arguably his own MVP's spring-training boast that started to change the Phillies' perennial settle-for-second-best clubhouse culture.)
In a sign that not all the world was askew, Billy Wagner was vaguely critical, warning that with such pronouncements “you create more of a target. Now, you have to lead.” (Oh, and in another sign of more-normal life, Beltran is recovering from dual knee surgeries and probably won't play in the first few Grapefruit League games.)
Carlos Beltran is probably never going to be a leader of men — it'll be startling if we hear as much from him as we did yesterday before the All-Star Break. And Wright's correct: Talk is cheap, and February talk is cheapest of all. Moreover, it's not like the 2007 Mets had a confidence deficit — their own blithe assurance that they would win helped ensure they would not. But I was happy to hear it nonetheless.
If Jose Reyes had played Jimmy Rollins, we'd want him to shut up and focus on running balls out and not trying to steal third with two outs and Wright at the plate. If Wagner had said it, we might once again wonder if Billy will ever stop being slightly too candid when the scribes come calling. (Cliff Floyd got away with it because he was funnier.) If Carlos Delgado had said it, I at least would immediately have wondered, “Where the hell was your voice all last year?” Coming from Beltran, though, this kind of swagger seems welcome. I take it as a sign that September tormented him, the way it tormented us. The difference is that he can do something about it.