Carlos Beltrán had seen enough. So in a quiet moment Tuesday afternoon, he pulled a chair beside José Reyes’s locker and offered some unsolicited advice. Recalling their conversation Wednesday night after the Mets’ 5-2 victory against the Washington Nationals, Beltrán said he told him: “I want you to be the Reyes you’ve always been. Forget what people say, what they write about you, what people think. Just be you.”
If there were any doubt that Reyes listened, it was erased in the fifth inning when he sprinted from the opposite end of the dugout to be the first one to greet Beltrán, whose three-run homer put the Mets ahead to stay. Reyes met Beltrán at the top step with a semi-elaborate handshake. The self-imposed restraint was gone, replaced by the unbridled joy that the Mets have rarely seen through the early weeks of the season.
Reyes said in spring training that he would tone down his celebratory antics and choreographed handshakes, but since returning from a strained left hamstring he has played his last two games as if he is unencumbered by perceptions of what is right or wrong. A night after notching four hits, Reyes added two more, including a game-tying homer in the fifth, and he could not have been happier about it.
“That’s what brought me here to the big leagues — jumping, smiling, laughing in the dugout,” Reyes said. “That’s me.”
The Reyes who has inhabited the Mets’ clubhouse the last two weeks has looked the same, although the results — right down to his single stolen base — have disappointed. He was batting .205 before injuring his hamstring, his funk reminiscent of his poor finish last season. But six hits in his last two games have nudged his average to .292. He said he feels refreshed after missing Saturday and Sunday games and taking advantage of Monday’s day off.
“The key to the whole thing is really José,” Manager Willie Randolph said.
Reyes irked some teams last season with his exuberant celebrations, his congratulating teammates with his helmet off and a complex series of hand-slaps and hugs. He vowed to curb those celebrations. His reasoning? He did not want to divert attention from what he hoped would be a bounce-back season.
“We knew he didn’t feel right,” Beltrán said. “We’re happy he’s doing it again. We don’t care if other teams get offended.”
Since proclaiming the Mets as “the team to beat” the first day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, Beltrán has declined to offer any bold predictions. But in his fourth year with the team, Beltrán is feeling more comfortable sharing his opinions, and he has gradually moved from the outskirts of the team’s leadership hierarchy toward a more central position.
There was nothing remarkably complex to how the Mets molded what had been a tense affair into their second consecutive victory, while the Nationals fell for the 11th time in 12 games.
If he had his druthers, perhaps Randolph would have spread out the runs, tacking on a few here or there. But he could not argue with how the revitalized top of his batting order, which changed before Tuesday’s game, has fared. Moving Ryan Church up in the lineup, to the No. 2 spot, adds an element of power that the Mets did not have when Luis Castillo batted second, and it allows Church and Reyes to get better pitches to hit.
“I’ve been getting good pitches to do something with,” said Church, who smoked a first-inning homer off the left-hander Matt Chico. Both his home runs have come against left-handed pitchers. “Even yesterday, I moved guys over for guys who get paid lots of money to drive them in.”
Another welcomed sight was how John Maine recovered from a rocky first inning to hold the Nationals to two runs over six and two-thirds innings in recording his first victory of the season. Maine allowed a first-inning run and a go-ahead homer to Austin Kearns in the fourth. He said he was not pleased with giving up four walks or with his fastball, which he said did not feel “100 percent right now.”
But he retired 10 of the next 12 hitters before consecutive walks to Cristian Guzmán and Ronnie Belliard in the seventh compelled Randolph to bring in Joe Smith to face the dangerous Ryan Zimmerman. Smith struck out Zimmerman looking at an outside slider, and the Nationals never threatened again.
The Mets had a little more trouble against Chico, the second of five left-handed pitchers they are scheduled to face. But when the lineup turned over in the fifth, with Reyes leading off, a rally was in the air. They had made Chico battle, forcing him to throw 82 pitches through four innings, and Reyes mashed an 0-2 fastball into the left-field stands for his first homer of the season.
Church, after falling behind 0-2, grounded a single through the right side, and David Wright followed by blooping a single off the glove of a diving Lastings Milledge. On the first pitch, Beltrán sent a towering fly ball that dropped over the left-field wall, and Reyes, who had been watching from the first-base side of the Mets’ dugout, scampered over to congratulate his teammate, his friend, his adviser, with a few hand slaps.
Asked if he remembered all the handshakes — he had special ones with Wright, Beltrán and Carlos Delgado, among others — Reyes smiled and rolled his eyes, ever so slightly.
“Believe it,” Reyes said.