Floyd's loss is Chavez's gain
Left fielder aggravates Achilles tendon; replacement ably fills in
NEW YORK -- The Mets had just taken Game 1 of the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals behind the stellar pitching of Tom Glavine and the impressive efforts of Carlos Beltran, but a slew of reporters instead hovered around outfielder Endy Chavez.
And Carlos Delgado, who had just stepped out of the shower, knew he had to let his locker neighbor have it.
"Endy, what the ... ?" Delgado joked from afar. "They're doing this documentary over a diving catch?"
The clubhouse chemistry after the Mets' 2-0 win over the Redbirds was evident.
But it's been there all year, and it's one of the reasons the Mets have been so successful this season.
Another mantra of the Mets this year involves Chavez, as well.
When someone falters or goes down, the next guy in line picks him up.
The player who went down Thursday was Cliff Floyd. On the first play of the game, the left fielder had to run a bit to track down a fly ball by David Eckstein. The gimp in his step was obvious, as Floyd hobbled back to his position after recording the out.
In the next inning, Juan Encarnacion fouled off a few pitches down the left-field line as if to heckle Floyd before flying out to him for the first out. Once again, Floyd's pain was noticeable.
But it wasn't until his at-bat in the second inning when it became obvious that Floyd wouldn't last much longer.
With two outs, Floyd limped to the batter's box and then, on a 2-2 count, flared one down the left-field line off Cardinals starter Jeff Weaver.
While the ball went safely into the stands, allowing Floyd another chance to bat, his attempt at running the bases told a different story.
The agony on Floyd's face as he pulled up after rounding first base showed a man in pain, but more emotionally than physically.
"I don't think I've been this disappointed in a long time," said Floyd, who missed more than half the 1997 and 1999 seasons with the Marlins because of injuries. "But I'm trying to tough it out. I just want to play and not let my team down. I can deal with the pain, but when stuff starts popping on you, then I have to figure something out how to make this work. The most disappointing thing is that you can't help the boys."
Two pitches later, Floyd hit a popout to left and his night -- and possibly his postseason -- was over.
Fortunately for the Mets, Chavez has played almost an equal amount of time at each outfield position this year, filling in where needed.
He filled in nicely in right when Xavier Nady suffered an appendectomy earlier this season. He spelled Beltran in center at different points, most importantly down the stretch in September, after the Mets had clinched the NL East title. And he took over for Floyd in left when the outfielder missed games due to a sprained left ankle or the lingering Achilles problem.
It was his turn to fill in for Floyd again on Thursday.
At first, Chavez thought Floyd would make it through the game.
"When I saw him the first two innings going after the fly balls, I thought he was OK and I was enjoying that," said Chavez.
But Floyd wasn't fine.
Shortly after replacing Floyd in left field, Chavez demonstrated how valuable he's been to the team with a fantastic diving catch in the fifth inning to rob Ronnie Belliard of a hit.
The snare was important in that it kept the Cardinals from mounting a run-producing inning, but it fueled an even more important feeling -- that the Mets' outfield would be fine if Floyd isn't able to play.
"Chavez has been picking us up all year, whether it's right, left, or center field," said manager Willie Randolph. "He's one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. When you put him out there, you know he's going to give you that solid effort."
"[Chavez has] been unbelievable all year long," said Glavine, who pitched seven shutout innings in earning the win. "He's certainly been one of, if not our unsung hero all year long. It just seems like every time that guy gets in the game, he's doing something to help us win, whether it's a big hit or a big play defensively. And tonight he made another great play defensively to help us."
Coming from a seasoned veteran such as Glavine, who's won the NL Cy Young Award twice in his career, been selected as a World Series MVP and played in the postseason 12 out of his 19 seasons, that's affirmation enough if Floyd can't give it a go.
"My job over here is to be the fourth outfielder and support my teammates when something is wrong," said Chavez.
Even if it means he is forced into being third in line.
While the Mets will tell you how important Floyd is to the team, both as a leader and a player, they know there's only so much he can give.
"It's tough to see Cliffy struggling with the Achilles," said right fielder Shawn Green. "He's a big part of the team, and we're in a position that everybody dreams of being in, so I know how hard it is for him right now. But Endy is as good as any outfielder you're gonna see in the game."
Chris Girandola is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.