“One swing can win it for New York,” said Gary Cohen.
And then it did. Carlos Beltran destroyed a baseball that had been thrown by Jason Isringhausen to give the Mets a dramatic walk-off win over the Cardinals on August 22, 2006. That the Mets already had a healthy double-digit lead in the National League East didn’t matter. This was one of those “I remember where I was when” games, the type that are relatively rare over the course of a 162-game season. The proof was right there in the rest of Gary Cohen’s empassioned call when he dropped the double “outta here!”
It’s fitting that Beltran was the one to provide one of the most memorable highs in a season that included so many. Coming off a disappointing 2005 season, his first after signing with the team as a free agent, Beltran was unquestionably the best player on the 2006 team. He hit .275/.388/.594 with a franchise-record-tying 41 home runs and 18 stolen bases in 21 attempts that year, all while playing center field so well that he won the first of his three consecutive Gold Glove awards. That he merely finished fourth in the voting for National League MVP award that year is still a head scratcher.
Beltran raked in the postseason that year, too. After a relatively pedestrian NLDS, he hit .296/.387/.667 with three home runs in the NLCS. That a significant portion of Mets fans fixated on the strikeout of Beltran that ended that series for years on end was disappointing, to say the least. As David Wright pointed out, Carlos Beltran and the Mets wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to play a Game 7 if not for Carlos Beltran’s awesomeness earlier in the series.
The remainder of Beltran’s time as a Mets player was pretty great, too, and his production remained strong even as injuries threatend to derail his career—and led to conflict with the Mets’ front office and ownership that very unfairly painted him as the villain. But Beltran was right, and his level of play in the first few months of the 2011 season was why the Mets were able to get Zack Wheeler from the Giants in return for him.
Beltran has a clear Hall of Fame candidacy that should get him into Cooperstown very quickly once he becomes eligible, and he racked up a plurality of that value in his six-and-two-thirds seasons with the Mets, making so many aspects of the game look easy along the way.
None of that guarantees anything about Beltran’s new job: manager of the Mets. That he even wound up a candidate for the job was a little bit surprising. Between the way the team handled his injuries when he was a player, the quotations of Fred Wilpon in the infamous interview in which he criticized several of the best players in franchise history, and the way things felt after Beltran was off the team, nobody would have predicted he’d be managing the team in the not-too-distant future. Hell, during a trip to Port St. Lucie to cover spring training, probably in 2013, Ed Coleman politely chuckled when I said that bringing Beltran back as a corner outfielder after that season concluded was at the top of my Mets wish list.
It’s a different role, but Beltran will be wearing a Mets uniform again next year. His teammates from his last year as a player—2017 with the Astros—have thoroughly praised him for his demeanor, incredible work ethic, and sharp baseball mind. Brian Cashman has been effusive in his praise of Beltran after working with him on the front office side with the Yankees. His likely induction into the Hall of Fame buys him a ton of credibility with the players he will manage.
What made Beltran great as a player is what seems most encouraging about his potential as a manager. If you watched him play on a regular basis, you saw that he knew the game incredibly well. If you heard about his preparation, you knew he was devoted to his craft, and even if you didn’t, you would have been able to figure it out by watching him play. Beltran knew what he was capable of and how to get the most out of that, and standing in center field for as long as he did, he got to see everything about the game unfold in front of him—a trait that’s brought up often about catchers but not so much about center fielders, who see the same things, just from the opposite angle.
On Monday morning, the Mets will re-introduce Beltran as a member of the organization. It’s on the Wilpons, Brodie Van Wagenen, and the rest of the front office to give Beltran the best possible roster they can. And as we’ve seen in the past, when Carlos Beltran has great talent in his hands, he knows what to do with it.