It’s been 11 years since Carlos Beltran faltered in his biggest moment as a member of the New York Mets. The criticism remains uncalled for.
It was a cool and crisp night on Oct. 19, 2006–a night typical for playoff baseball. Shea Stadium had never been more raucous, ready to break the sound barrier with ear-splitting cheers for the team wearing orange and blue. Yet on this night, the only thing colder than the air was the feeling of defeat. Carlos Beltran, known for his playoff heroics, had just struck out in the single most important at-bat of his New York Mets career.
The loss is one you simply do not get over. Eleven years have passed since that fateful day and many have had a hard time forgiving Beltran for coming up short. However, he isn’t to blame for the club failing to advance to the World Series.
What is so easily forgotten about that series against a St. Louis team that was fortunate to be in the postseason after winning just 83 games, was Beltran’s performance in the series itself. Over the seven games, he hit .296 with a .387 OBP, homering three times, driving in four and stealing a base.
During game one, Beltran’s mammoth blast against Jeff Weaver provided the only two runs of the game. So, had it not been for his homer, the Mets may not have forced a game seven anyways. Additionally, with the team down two games to one, Beltran homered twice in a game four road victory. He had a fine series and was largely the reason why the series even went as long as it did.
Manager Willie Randolph also takes some of the blame for the game seven loss. The ninth inning saw the first two batters of the inning, Jose Valentin and Endy Chavez, reach with singles. With two men on and no one out, Randolph called on Cliff Floyd to pinch hit, who proceeded to strike out.
Floyd was playing injured and had barely appeared in the series. Calling on a banged up player to enter cold, during the ninth inning of a seventh game, is a tough ask. Anything hit on the ground was essentially an automatic double play given Floyd’s lower body issues which were enough of a risk in itself. The ghost of Kirk Gibson was not going to save Randolph’s misguided decision.
Instead of Floyd, Randolph could have pinch hit Chris Woodward or even a pitcher to bunt the runners over. Had the sacrifice been successful, the Cardinals would have likely walked Jose Reyes to set up the bases loaded with one out and the slow-footed Paul Lo Duca would have been the man of the moment.
Bad luck also bit the Mets just before the postseason. Orlando Hernandez, who figured to be the Mets number two behind Tom Glavine in the rotation, injured his hamstring running in the outfield before game one of the NLDS against the Dodgers. Pedro Martinez had midseason rotator cuff surgery and the team’s primary set up man, Duaner Sanchez, suffered a career-altering injury while in a taxi cab of all places about halfway through the season.
Could you have imagined a rotation featuring Glavine, Pedro, and “El Duque” instead of one that was forced to resort to John Maine Oliver Perez and Steve Trachsel? What would have happened if Sanchez could have faced Yadier Molina instead of Aaron Heilman? We will never know, but you would have put your money on the former three to help win the series.
To make matters worse, Beltran had tormented the Cardinals just two years prior. Baseball can sometimes be a cruel game and what a cruel ending it was for a team that dominated the National League over the course of the regular season.
There is no denying that at-bat was the defining moment of Beltran’s career in Queens. However, maybe it’s not right to let it define him after all.