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The Promise Keepers: Reyes & Carter

I’m pretty sure Jose Reyes gave me a Metgasm Tuesday night.

It was in the top of the sixth when, with Ruben Tejada on second, Jair Jurrjens threw his 2-1 pitch high and tight at Jose, pushing our Met of Mets off the plate. Since they had obviously just waxed the dirt at Turner Field, Jose stumbled sideways and fell down. I wouldn’t call it a knockdown pitch, but it did knock down Jose.

Jose Reyes gets knocked down, he gets up again. Jair Jurrjens is never gonna keep him down.

Next pitch, Jose Reyes did what absolute stud superstar baseball players do. He knocked the ball into center field to drive home Tejada. Drove himself to second on the throw while he was at it, punctuating this incredibly exhilarating two-pitch sequence of events with that claw thing Mets do when they do something like Reyes does…which is to say when they do something great.

I thought it was great. I thought it was outstanding. Actually, I didn’t think so much as emote. It just blurted out of me, with no one around to hear it but the cats, when I considered how Reyes got mad and got even all in one swing:


That, I believe, was my Metgasm. I don’t remember the last time I had one quite like it. I wasn’t just excited. I was, shall we say, satisfied. If it wasn’t only the sixth inning, I would have rolled over and fallen peacefully asleep.

Of course it was the sixth inning and it was Turner Field, where the Mets rarely send the Braves gently into that good night, not even when Jose Reyes the human verb — all action — is punctuating and clawing and hitting and running and, per Charlie Sheen (or, more topically and less disturbingly, Jon Niese), winning. The Mets were winning 4-1 after Jose’s random act of vengeance. It felt like they were winning 14-1. That’s always a little dangerous, particularly at Turner Field. When your scoreboard total doesn’t match the one in your head, you are subject to creeping terrors.

Or Chipper Jones. Whichever bats first.

I’m relieved to report that Tim Byrdak relieved with Reyes-like brilliance and Carlos Beltran defended with Reyes-like élan and Frankie Rodriguez closed with a Reyes-like exclamation point and the Mets followed their leader into victory [1], slipping here and there, but overall maintaining their balance straight into third place.

Other Mets had roles to play in this prime-time edition of The Jose Reyes and Friends! Hour [2], but Jose was clearly the star of this show. Jose is clearly the star of almost every show this cast puts on. He’s been the star of this season, the star of this franchise. He is, as that football coach once said about an opponent, who we thought he was.

And isn’t that something? Jose Reyes is who we thought he was, who we thought he was going to be, who we were told he was going to be…who we were, in a manner of speaking, promised he was going to be. Jose Reyes was this organization’s top prospect close to a decade ago and now he’s this team’s top player. Not just this week or this month, but this generation. Sometimes in tandem with David Wright, but right now, due to circumstances beyond his hobbled teammate’s control, totally singular in his spectacularity.

The Mets tell us about lots of prospects. That’s what ballclubs do. Most of them don’t amount to anything amazing. A handful succeed. One, in all these years, has turned into exactly what we could have dreamed. And we’re watching him lead off every night. We’re watching him go 3-for-5 or something like it as a matter of course. We’re watching him double and triple and occasionally homer and frequently steal and be the Jose Reyes they told us he’d be in 2003, the Jose Reyes he indicated he’d be in 2005, the Jose Reyes he was for the bulk of 2006 and 2007, except more polished, more mature, more skilled, more knowing…more everything, except injured.

More money, too, but I’m trying not to think about that. It’s not something I want to emote over. It’s something I prefer to believe will somehow get done. Get Einhorn officially on board, let him play a few rounds of high-stakes poker, let him rake in a pot of Reyes chips and let’s stop kidding ourselves that the Mets will be the Mets in 2012 and beyond without their all-time leadoff hitter and — it took me a long time to come around on this — all-time shortstop (sorry Buddy [3]).

Jose’s done his job. Jose’s kept his promise. Jose’s kept the Mets’ promise. He has arrived at a level where no born & bred Met position player has ever landed. Edgardo Alfonzo, whom I loved and will always love, simply didn’t have Reyes’s ceiling. Darryl Strawberry, of whom I was quite fond, could bundle his assets into a thriving portfolio, yet never quite shook his liabilities. David Wright…still wonderful, just different. You can imagine finding another player (if not person) like David Wright. It wouldn’t be easy and it wouldn’t be cheap and it would be a miserable task by any means, but you could probably substitute if absolutely needed (stressing that you shouldn’t want to).

Where ya gonna find another Jose Reyes? Where have the Mets ever found another Jose Reyes? Jose Reyes was Jose Reyes when he came up and grew to become an ever more phenomenal version of himself. There was a detour or two along the way, but he was always Jose Reyes, and it worked. That never happens.

Well, it may have happened once before in terms of a Met position player being who he was supposed to be. I’m thinking of Gary Carter. Not homegrown, certainly not fleet afoot, but he, like Jose, lived up to his promise. The Mets traded for Gary Carter, high-priced, highly accomplished veteran, implicitly promising he was going to be the difference-maker. Hell, Carter explicitly promised he was going to be the difference-maker. Got up at his press conference, showed off his right ring finger, said he was leaving it unadorned for the World Series ring he was going to put on it.

As a Met. And he did it.

Quick, what other Met position player ever did that? Donn Clendenon was a difference-maker, but as one of 25 more or less co-equal pieces, and nobody seriously viewed the Mets as one player away from where they eventually went; plus Clendenon wasn’t an All-Star, let alone a future Hall of Famer. Keith Hernandez was a huge difference-maker, but he was brought on board at a different stage of the team’s development (and didn’t exactly embrace his arrival). Rusty Staub was a force, but not that kind of force precisely. Mike Piazza — everything but the ring…not his fault they didn’t get one, but they didn’t. You can say the same of Carlos Beltran and, for that matter, Carlos Delgado. George Foster was a bust. Bobby Bonilla was woefully miscast, to put it kindly. Robbie Alomar was a disaster. Jason Bay…yeah, right. The Mets have groped about for saviors and leaders and superstars and guys who were going to put them over the top from the outside, but only one, in terms of stature and impact and determination, really took on the task and delivered. That was Gary Carter.

With Carter on our minds for all the wrong reasons [4]of late, it’s occurred to me he and Reyes have quite a bit in common. They were both recognized for their world-class smiles. They were both criticized for their world-class smiles. Gary Carter’s ebullience was a red cape to National League teams in 1985 and 1986. Think Kid cared? Did he ever stop pumping his fist or raising his arm or slapping the palms of his teammates high in the air? Did Carter let up for one minute as he raised the Mets’ game? And remember how Reyes was supposedly too happy, too joyous, too expressive for his own good?

The “Bad Guys” reputation that developed over the years notwithstanding, the 1986 Mets were, in real time, viewed widely as Gary Carter’s team. He was Mr. Outside to Keith’s Mr. Inside. If Keith ran the clubhouse like a capo (at least in the mythology of the day), Gary put a respectable face on the operation. Ivory Soap, Newsday, Northville Gasoline…he was everywhere. He was the biggest star in the Met galaxy, which is saying something considering the presence of Mex and Doc and Straw. But it wasn’t just commercials or image. Gary Carter gave you an extra, much-needed layer of faith in the Mets when he came over in ’85. He was the security blanket. Gary Carter is up this inning. How can we not score?

Jose Reyes may not have been marketed (or hasn’t marketed himself) to within an inch of his life, but the Mets are his team now. It’s a good fit [5]. When you see the Mets coming, you see Jose. When you watch them from this angle, as a Mets fan, in whom do you trust? Who soothes our inner Linus the way Jose does? Jose Reyes is up this inning. How can we not score? He doesn’t lead as talented a club as Carter did, but imagine, if you dare, how much less talented, less soothing, less interesting it would be without Jose.

I don’t want to imagine that. Let somebody who can do something about it do that, and then act appropriately. Let me just watch and enjoy and take pleasure in what we’ve got and, boy do I hope, what we will continue to have.

Mets fan Roger Hess is currently climbing Denali in Alaska to raise funds for the Tug McGraw Foundation to help battle brain cancer in honor of his friend and fellow Mets fan David, in the midst of his own battle with that insidious disease. Read their story here [6] and, if you can, please give what you can here [7].