Delgado was destined for October
After a long wait, Mets slugger is lighting up postseason
ST. LOUIS -- The first thing you notice when rains wash out a postseason game is that the postponement creates considerably less havoc for players than it does for people covering them.With reporters all around frantically jabbering into cell phones to adjust hotel and flight arrangements, David Wright smiled comfortably. Although he and his Mets teammates had checked out of their hotel on the way to drenched Busch Stadium, there was no need to scramble for new reservations. "They take care of us," Wright said, impishly. The second thing you notice is, climate doesn't change Carlos Delgado's workday. He just does business in a different location. And, so, as some Mets leisurely discussed the interruption in the National League Championship Series and others changed into their fine threads, Delgado walked through the clubhouse clutching a couple of bats. Minutes later, he was in an indoor batting cage, working toward remaining uncaged. He strove to maintain the swing that has buckled the Cardinals. In four games against St. Louis, Delgado is hitting .400, with half of his six hits being home runs, and has knocked in nine runs. This is actually a drop-off from his Division Series job on the Dodgers, against whom he hit .429. In other words, after waiting 1,711 Major League games for his first postseason exposure, Delgado hasn't arrived in October singing the old Peggy Lee tune, "Is That All There Is?" The experience hasn't shortchanged Delgado. And he definitely hasn't shortchanged the Mets or their fans. "Some guys, when they get that opportunity to perform, struggle," said Mets general manager Omar Minaya, who had given Delgado this opportunity. "He's doing the same thing he's done all year. But there's really no way to tell ahead of time how it's going to go." Beg to differ, but with Delgado it was predictable. This is a guy whose dramatic timing is almost as finely tuned as his swing -- which is a thing of beauty. "I'm happy he's getting a chance at the playoffs, and happy for the way he's playing," said Carlos Beltran, who shares so much with him: name, adulation of the same native country, friendship. "He's hitting the ball really well. We've been good friends for seven years, and it's special to be able to experience this with him." Beltran also knows a few things about lighting up postseason games. He has played 19 of them, and hit 11 home runs. Keep this up, and anointing him a new Mr. October won't be enough. They'll just have to name the month itself after him, as in, Halloween in the future will come on the 31st of Beltran.
Still, for year-round dramatics, Delgado is a tough act.When he hit career homer No. 1, it was his only shot of the day. Career homer No. 100 was part of a two-homer day, No. 200 came on a three-homer day and No. 300 came on a four-homer day. Hate to spoil a good story, but No. 400 did not come in a five-homer game; no one has yet done that. But it was a grand slam, on Aug. 22, off Jeff Weaver -- the Cardinals' starter in Tuesday's delayed Game 5. Then, there was the day Delgado finally came off Puerto Rico's bench in the World Baseball Classic. A strained side muscle had kept him off the field, but a native icon like him could not be kept off the roster, not with San Juan as the host city. So Delgado comes off the bench in the eighth inning of the second-round-deciding game against Cuba, after not having swung a bat for 10 days and, with 21,000 fans in Hiram Bithorn Stadium going bonkers, delivers a sharp single. Obviously, the glare of October and Delgado were made for each other. Minaya knew this two years ago. He did his utmost to intercept free agent Delgado between Toronto and Florida, and was shocked to find out that he had done too much. A sensitive person, despite his insensitive treatment of pitchers, Delgado resented the hard-sell of Minaya and assistant GM Tony Bernazard, instead signing with Florida. Had all parties gotten it right, before the Marlins' fiscal correction gave them a second chance, could the Mets be defending their NL pennant? "We are better than last year, and Delgado is one of the reasons," said Beltran, who himself has looked better in Delgado's reflection. With Delgado protecting him in the Mets lineup, Beltran hit 25 more homers and drove in 38 more runs than he had in his first New York season. While those numbers are skewered by the fact Beltran also had to deal with numerous injuries in 2005, there is no denying the other Carlos' help both in the batting order and in the clubhouse. The two are always looking out for each other.
"We hit in the cage together," Beltran said, "and if either of us falls into some bad habits, we let each other know.""We talk to each other before the game, discussing our approach," Delgado said. "We try to exchange as much information as possible before our second at-bats. "I'm happiest when we hit as a team and, when it comes to the postseason, he's fun to watch." Beltran is fun to watch on both ends of the ball, displaying athleticism in center field. Delgado won't wow anyone on defense. But Delgado balances it out by delivering better quotes, most of them with a wide smile that can light up a room. He had the wattage turned up pretty high Monday afternoon, when he returned from the batting cage and the only hitting he would be doing on this wet night. "I came here ready to play but, hey, it's pretty crappy out there," said Delgado, who then was asked whether he and his Mets would rather have played before the effects of their Sunday night 12-5 blowout could wear off. "It's not about rather, it's about the rain," he said. Through four games, an NLCS has been about Delgado. About time.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.