Stepping Down into Jose Reyes Withdrawal

By now, I'm hoping that the greatest day in baseball ever has eased the sanctimony over Reyes's shenanigans in game 162 of your New York Mets.

"I don't understand how anybody comes to the last baseball game of the year and leaves early," writes Faith and Fear in Flushing's Greg Prince on his experience attending Closing Day at Citi Field. He wrote that in the context of fans who still hope to beat traffic rather than embrace the fleeting few moments left before the Mets go into hibernation, but it's applicable in Jose Reyes's plight as well. It could theoretically be his last game as a member of the only club to ever issue him a paycheck. Wouldn't he want to play it? All of it? Hear his name chanted throughout it?

What was a night of baseball I will tell my grandkids about someday eased the burden, but there's a cognitive dissonance with what happened with Reyes and what was supposed to happen that I'm having trouble rectifying. Maybe it's because it coincided with the end of Mets baseball in 2011, or because the euphoria from our revered shortstop winning the first NL batting title in team history wound up so much lower than what Tampa Bay Rays or St. Louis Cardinals fans feel today.

Or maybe it's because I missed it. That's probably a factor, too.

"One of those joining me Wednesday had to arrive late," Greg wrote at FAFIF. "The last time Jose Reyes batted (whether in 2011 or forever in our colors), he had to watch it on the radio."

That was me. A prior appointment precluded me from being at first pitch for yesterday's finale, but I figured I wouldn't miss much. I was literally descending the stairs at the Willets Point station where a gent next to me removed his earbuds and felt compelled to say to me directly: "They pulled Reyes. He's out of the game."

Was he hurt? Was there a brawl? If I missed a bench-clearing brawl, I'll be so mad...

"He bunted a single, and Collins took him out," said my fellow fan.

What? No, that can't... That doesn't make... Why would...?

I WAS ON THE GODDAMNED STAIRS!!! Five minutes. That's all I would've needed. Stupid Citi Field. Even Shea would've let me watch the play through that little gap in the right field wall that made the field plainly visible from the 7 train plaza. And where was the express train to begin with?

I said I'd go to the game to get a final fix of baseball, but you're kidding yourself if you think seeing Reyes potentially take his final bow wasn't a factor in my decision to go. If "watching baseball" was reason number one, "watching Reyes" was reason number 1A. ("Watching Reyes's bunt by way of a digital SLR slide show that at least gave me the ability to say I watched it at Citi Field" didn't register in the polling.)

I actually salute the move from the NL batting crown standpoint. Reyes collecting a hit and hitting the showers shortly thereafter is as direct a challenge as he could issue to Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee BrewersJust like Willie McGee did to Dave Magadan back in 1990, Reyes set the line for the batting title and let someone else chase him. To ride that ride, Braun's performance that evening would need to be taller. That's gamesmanship, and how can you not love that in a baseball game the same way you might relish a perfectly-executed hit-and-run?

As a fan who missed Reyes's final moments by mere moments, I'm torn. The batting title might always have the charm of a glass Coke, but we statistically-enlightened folks have seen the shine of the crown dull in recent years. How many of the last 10 NL batting champs can you name? And was Freddy Sanchez one of your guesses?

Simply put, Reyes's decision to bow out ended the game prematurely for me. Oh, it was fun to watch 40-year-old Miguel Batista pitch a complete game, two-hit shutout and keep Bobby Parnell firmly planted on the bullpen bench, or see Molloy HS alum Mike Baxter hit a home run within shouting distance of his old stomping grounds in Whitestone. It's always great to see Edgar Renteria strike out looking (even if it felt as if the home fans were cheering a plane flying overhead for one of the final times this season instead of the former Florida Marlins menace heading back out to the field).

I just hoped to see the guy who still leaves me confused as to why he never merits consideration in the "team captain" debate give me one last shred of evidence for the "pro" argument. Jose Reyes put fans in the stands these past few weeks. There's an expectation that comes with it, one that doesn't involve hoping a guy selling t-shirts can coerce the home crowd into inducing one last curtain call from the shortstop listed in the starting lineup before everybody goes home.

It's fine, and not really a big deal. Baseball's a business, as Reyes's decision forcefully reminded us again. It could even work out, as the goodwill earned by Terry Collins in letting Reyes come out could factor favorably in the offseason negotiations.

"I won the NL batting title," Reyes and his agent will proudly state.

"Because we let you," Alderson will retort.

And it probably would rankle fewer folks if we Mets fans had any idea what comes next. The free agent class isn't exactly beaming with answers outside of Reyes, and the farm system has made progress but still hasn't teased us with our next favorite Met superstar. Outside of the big-ticket items like David Wright or Johan Santana, who knows what Sandy Alderson might do to patch together another roster in what could easily be a "retooling year" in 2012?

There was always certainty in seeing Reyes play. When his hamstring cooperates and his bat comes alive, he was and is a sight to see. That certainty is no more for Mets fans. And Reyes apparently removed it himself.

Welcome to the Era of Uncertainty. And watch out for that first step. You don't want to miss it.

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