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After a tumultuous beginning, healthy Beltran finds comfort

Friday, June 02, 2006

BY DON BURKE

Star-Ledger Staff

NEW YORK -- The bat handle doesn't turn to sawdust anymore when Carlos Beltran stands in the batter's box.

 

The center fielder, who may have had the whitest knuckles in the majors last season, has finally loosened up -- with his hold on the bat and his grasp of playing for the Mets.

 

A year ago, Beltran was hobbling around one leg, the result of a nagging quadriceps strain. He was a $119-million liability who was too stubborn, too prideful, too obligated, to ask out of the lineup.

 

Not surprisingly, each grinding at-bat became a referendum on his ability, and Beltran's performance and Q-rating with Shea Stadium's fickle fans suffered.

 

By his insistence on playing, his leg took longer than it should have to heal. Mets fans, never an understanding lot, made Beltran their No. 1 whipping boy and his season -- which never had a chance to live up to the salary-induced hype -- went straight into the dumper.

 

Now healthy after missing 10 games in April with a tender hamstring and refusing to return until his leg was completely healed, Beltran's performance has been arguably the most pleasant of all the surprises that have helped the Mets to their first-place standing in the National League East.

 

"I just feel better," said Beltran, who enjoys talking about last season almost as much as he enjoys discussing his treatment by Mets fans. "Unlike last year, I feel like I can do anything. ... When I hurt my quad, there were so many things I couldn't do."

 

Many thought playing in New York was among the things Beltran couldn't do, and maybe last season that was true. But, so far this year, Beltran has shown that Gotham's spotlight doesn't faze him in the least.

 

His three-run homer in the first inning off Randy Johnson on May 19 helped the Mets climb back from a 4-0 deficit to beat the Yankees. Beltran's solo shot in the 16th inning a week ago beat Philadelphia and, just 18 hours later, his first-inning homer got the Mets off and running in what became another victory over the then second-place Phillies.

 

Last Sunday, he homered in the Mets' 7-3 victory over the Florida Marlins, his 14th of the season. Beltran -- who hit just 16 homers in 2005 after slugging 38 the season before -- didn't hit his 14th homer last season until Aug. 30.

 

Mets fans got a scare Wednesday night when he fouled a ball off his right knee and fell to the ground. But X-rays came back negative. He is listed as questionable for tonight's game against the Giants.

 

"He's seeing a lot more pitches. He's a lot more patient," Mets hitting coach Rick Down said. "He's much more relaxed. He doesn't feel like he has to do everything himself.

 

"Whether it's real or not, if that's what they think, then they're right."

 

But the arrival of close friend Carlos Delgado in an off-season trade changed all that.

 

"Having him here has been great," Beltran said. "Not only as a friend, but as a part of the team. He's a guy who I feel right now if there are runners in scoring position and they don't want to pitch to me, I can take a walk because I know Carlos is behind me to drive them in.

 

"Maybe last year, I would try to do a little too much, swing at pitches I shouldn't. This year, I feel more relaxed. I feel like I have guys like Carlos, David (Wright) and Cliff (Floyd). The lineup is different and it's a better lineup than we had last year."

 

Delgado, the new cleanup hitter, has had much to do with that. But Floyd, who drove in 98 runs, and Wright, who drove in 102, hit directly behind Beltran last season.

 

But perception, as Down pointed out, is often reality.

 

"He doesn't feel like he has to be 'The Man' anymore," Floyd said. "He's learned to depend on the other guys around him and ... that has helped him tremendously."

 

Also aiding in Beltran's blossoming is the fact that this is his second year in New York. That makes a difference. There's a learning curve involved in playing here that players, even the best ones, have to go through.

 

And, after a nomadic existence when he and his wife, Jessica, moved three times last season, Beltran has built a home on Long Island and the couple is much more settled.

 

"I feel like we're set," he said.

 

Beltran seems also to have settled in at Shea, where he was still being hooted at by Mets fans when he struggled during this season's first few games. But he crossed an important threshold April 6 when he answered -- albeit reluctantly -- a curtain call after a home run that helped beat Washington.

 

Mets fans -- who didn't care that Julio Franco had to practically drag him to the foot of the dugout stairs -- have been on Beltran's side ever since.

 

"I notice," Beltran said with a hardness to his voice, an edge that wasn't there a year ago. "It's all right. That's the way it is. It's hard to understand the fans sometimes.

 

"I just know that I don't really worry about it. Sometimes you're going to hear boos and it's part of the game. It's part of being in New York, part of being with a big-market team. The fans expect a lot from the players.

 

"All I have to say is that we're in first place and that's all I care about. ... I'm healthy. I'm relaxed. I'm happy. We're winning. What else can I ask for?"

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After a tumultuous beginning, healthy Beltran finds comfort

Friday, June 02, 2006

BY DON BURKE

Star-Ledger Staff

NEW YORK -- The bat handle doesn't turn to sawdust anymore when Carlos Beltran stands in the batter's box.

 

The center fielder, who may have had the whitest knuckles in the majors last season, has finally loosened up -- with his hold on the bat and his grasp of playing for the Mets.

 

A year ago, Beltran was hobbling around one leg, the result of a nagging quadriceps strain. He was a $119-million liability who was too stubborn, too prideful, too obligated, to ask out of the lineup.

 

Not surprisingly, each grinding at-bat became a referendum on his ability, and Beltran's performance and Q-rating with Shea Stadium's fickle fans suffered.

 

By his insistence on playing, his leg took longer than it should have to heal. Mets fans, never an understanding lot, made Beltran their No. 1 whipping boy and his season -- which never had a chance to live up to the salary-induced hype -- went straight into the dumper.

 

Now healthy after missing 10 games in April with a tender hamstring and refusing to return until his leg was completely healed, Beltran's performance has been arguably the most pleasant of all the surprises that have helped the Mets to their first-place standing in the National League East.

 

"I just feel better," said Beltran, who enjoys talking about last season almost as much as he enjoys discussing his treatment by Mets fans. "Unlike last year, I feel like I can do anything. ... When I hurt my quad, there were so many things I couldn't do."

 

Many thought playing in New York was among the things Beltran couldn't do, and maybe last season that was true. But, so far this year, Beltran has shown that Gotham's spotlight doesn't faze him in the least.

 

His three-run homer in the first inning off Randy Johnson on May 19 helped the Mets climb back from a 4-0 deficit to beat the Yankees. Beltran's solo shot in the 16th inning a week ago beat Philadelphia and, just 18 hours later, his first-inning homer got the Mets off and running in what became another victory over the then second-place Phillies.

 

Last Sunday, he homered in the Mets' 7-3 victory over the Florida Marlins, his 14th of the season. Beltran -- who hit just 16 homers in 2005 after slugging 38 the season before -- didn't hit his 14th homer last season until Aug. 30.

 

Mets fans got a scare Wednesday night when he fouled a ball off his right knee and fell to the ground. But X-rays came back negative. He is listed as questionable for tonight's game against the Giants.

 

"He's seeing a lot more pitches. He's a lot more patient," Mets hitting coach Rick Down said. "He's much more relaxed. He doesn't feel like he has to do everything himself.

 

"Whether it's real or not, if that's what they think, then they're right."

 

But the arrival of close friend Carlos Delgado in an off-season trade changed all that.

 

"Having him here has been great," Beltran said. "Not only as a friend, but as a part of the team. He's a guy who I feel right now if there are runners in scoring position and they don't want to pitch to me, I can take a walk because I know Carlos is behind me to drive them in.

 

"Maybe last year, I would try to do a little too much, swing at pitches I shouldn't. This year, I feel more relaxed. I feel like I have guys like Carlos, David (Wright) and Cliff (Floyd). The lineup is different and it's a better lineup than we had last year."

 

Delgado, the new cleanup hitter, has had much to do with that. But Floyd, who drove in 98 runs, and Wright, who drove in 102, hit directly behind Beltran last season.

 

But perception, as Down pointed out, is often reality.

 

"He doesn't feel like he has to be 'The Man' anymore," Floyd said. "He's learned to depend on the other guys around him and ... that has helped him tremendously."

 

Also aiding in Beltran's blossoming is the fact that this is his second year in New York. That makes a difference. There's a learning curve involved in playing here that players, even the best ones, have to go through.

 

And, after a nomadic existence when he and his wife, Jessica, moved three times last season, Beltran has built a home on Long Island and the couple is much more settled.

 

"I feel like we're set," he said.

 

Beltran seems also to have settled in at Shea, where he was still being hooted at by Mets fans when he struggled during this season's first few games. But he crossed an important threshold April 6 when he answered -- albeit reluctantly -- a curtain call after a home run that helped beat Washington.

 

Mets fans -- who didn't care that Julio Franco had to practically drag him to the foot of the dugout stairs -- have been on Beltran's side ever since.

 

"I notice," Beltran said with a hardness to his voice, an edge that wasn't there a year ago. "It's all right. That's the way it is. It's hard to understand the fans sometimes.

 

"I just know that I don't really worry about it. Sometimes you're going to hear boos and it's part of the game. It's part of being in New York, part of being with a big-market team. The fans expect a lot from the players.

 

"All I have to say is that we're in first place and that's all I care about. ... I'm healthy. I'm relaxed. I'm happy. We're winning. What else can I ask for?"

Awesome article!!!! Thanks 420 :worshippy: ;)

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