DENVER -- Carlos Beltran had already hit two home runs, one from each side of the plate. He had already left several mouths agape. But as he stalked toward the end of Coors Field's visiting dugout in the ninth inning Thursday, Beltran was not considering either home run. He was focused only on Rockies reliever Matt Lindstrom, who two days earlier had struck him out looking on three pitches.
Beltran found Willie Harris by the bat rack and told him he wanted revenge. He was not joking. He used the word "revenge." Then, after Harris reached base for the fourth time, Beltran marched up to the plate, waited for a slider and connected.
"That's why he is who he is," Harris said.
The result was Beltran's career-high third home run of the afternoon, leading the Mets to a 9-5 victory over the Rockies and affirming Beltran's renewed stature as one of the best power hitters in baseball.
"Being able to do something like this, I feel like a little kid," Beltran said. "Honestly. I never smile a lot, but I was smiling."
"I have never seen a day like that before," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "I've seen a lot of real good players play, but he pretty much just said, 'Hop on, I'll take you in this one.'"
It marked Beltran's most remarkable performance in nearly a half decade, flooding back memories of his early days with the Mets. Facing Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez in the first inning, Beltran clubbed a left-handed two-run homer to straightaway center field, giving the Mets an early lead. Facing reliever Franklin Morales in the seventh inning, he hit a right-handed two-run shot to left. And against Lindstrom in the ninth, he yanked another two-run blast to the right-field seats, matching his career high with six RBIs.
Thrice is nice
|Carlos Beltran||Rockies||May 12, 2011|
|Jose Reyes||Phillies||Aug. 15, 2006|
|Edgardo Alfonzo||Astros||Aug. 30, 1999|
|Gary Carter||Padres||Sept. 3, 1985|
|Darryl Strawberry||Cubs||Aug. 5, 1985|
|Claudell Washington||Dodgers||June 22, 1980|
|Dave Kingman||Dodgers||June 4, 1976|
|Jim Hickman||Cardinals||Sept. 3, 1965|
Afterward, Jimenez provided the understatement of the afternoon, saying simply: "He did great today."
He performed remarkably, in fact, generating wonder from his technical efficiency. Beltran hit three home runs in a game for the first time in his career. He became the eighth Mets player ever to achieve that feat, and the first since Jose Reyes -- who provided even more offense with a two-run single off Jimenez -- in 2006. (Edgardo Alfonzo, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, Claudell Washington, Dave Kingman and Jim Hickman were the others.) Beltran hit homers from both sides of the plate for the eighth time in his career, and the fifth time with the Mets, tying Todd Hundley's franchise record.
On a day the Mets rested David Wright and placed their most productive hitter, Ike Davis, on the disabled list, Beltran singlehandedly carried Jon Niese to his second victory, providing all the offense the Mets would need.
"That's the Carlos Beltran that I remember seeing the first few years when he was in New York," Wright said.
It was the type of day that many have forgotten, the type that chronic knee injuries and multiple surgeries have robbed him of enjoying since 2008 -- his last healthy and productive season. But even then, Beltran was battling through the beginnings of knee woes and underperforming, drawing criticism midway through his seven-year, $119 million contract.
Now, he is in the final year of that deal, with trade speculation lurking around every bat rack. No doubt executives for the Tigers and Red Sox and countless other teams watched Beltran's performance Thursday, scribbling down notes and checking their budgets. Mere months after his value cratered to a craggy nadir, Beltran has proven his health and potential and is in demand once more.
"I never lost my faith in what I'm capable of doing on the field," he said early Thursday evening, pausing with his necktie halfway tied. "I know that I can play this game at a very high level. I feel that in my heart."
He is able to work again now, arriving at the ballpark every day to perform soft toss drills, one-handed swing drills, curveball drills and vision training. Beltran takes batting practice every afternoon, something he was physically incapable of doing back in Spring Training, when knee issues forced him out of his lifelong position in center field and limited him to a total of two official games.
So much criticism has obscured the man since then, that many people -- smart people, many of them his own coaches and teammates -- doubted he would ever be the same again. It was easy to forget just how good Beltran had been in his prime.
"He's the kind of hitter that you would teach your kid to swing like," hitting coach Dave Hudgens said. "He tries to do everything the right way."
If the Mets are to successfully navigate the next two weeks (or more) without Davis, and with Wright, battling back woes, at something less than top form, they'll need Beltran to play a significant role. Even with the Mets pounding out nine runs Thursday, their bottom five lineup spots produced an 0-for-14 afternoon. Beltran outperformed his eight teammates combined.
That makes it difficult not to view his performance through the prism of what it means for the franchise. Unless the Mets climb into serious playoff contention over the next two months, it is a near certainty that they will eventually look to trade Beltran to a contender, in exchange for some of the building blocks of their next contending team. Beltran does not carry as much value as the younger Wright or Reyes, nor is he even a shadow of the elite defender he once was. But Thursday's performance provided the latest evidence that Beltran can still be a commodity.
He did, after all, what many assumed he was incapable of doing. In a rain-soaked makeup game at Coors Field, after a 130-minute delay, Beltran gave the baseball world reason to pause.
"Tremendous day," was how Collins summed it. "It was worth waiting two hours to watch."