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CIN@NYM: Baxter belts his first Major League homer

NEW YORK -- Jose Reyes' career might have ended more quietly than the fans would have liked, but the rest of the team went out with a bang.

In an effort to secure the National League batting title, the shortstop and upcoming free agent was pulled for a pinch-runner after reaching base on a bunt single in the first inning of New York's 3-0 win over Cincinnati at Citi Field.

Surprised fans greeted Reyes' removal with boos after the hit pushed his batting average to an NL-best .337 and ensured that Milwaukee's Ryan Braun will have to get at least three hits in order to prevent Reyes from winning the first batting title in Mets history.

The Mets carried on just fine in Reyes' absence, though. Miguel Batista hurled a two-hit shutout, and local product Mike Baxter swatted his first Major League home run. The win gave the Mets a 77-85 record and cemented their third straight fourth-place finish in the NL East.

But for manager Terry Collins, his first season at the helm was about more than the team's final place in the standings. Despite a barrage of injuries to Reyes, Daniel Murphy, Ike Davis, David Wright and Johan Santana, his Mets pushed forward and, at times, overachieved.

In his final postgame news conference of the season, Collins could barely put into words how proud he is of the effort his players gave this season. At one point, all he could do was weep.

"I heard a few comments in the stands [about Reyes leaving the game]. People pay a good price to come to these games, and they've got to understand that I ask these players to do a lot," Collins said, pausing to wipe the tears from his eyes. "We've worked hard to get their respect this year, and they deserve ours.

"They are the finest group of guys I've been with in a long time. They like each other, they support each other, they're fun."

Though Collins said that the decision to take Reyes out of the game was ultimately his, he said that Reyes requested to be removed after his first hit and that it was important not to break the trust he had worked all year to establish with his players.

After Reyes came out, the Mets did not have another baserunner off Reds starter Edinson Volquez until the fourth inning. It was then that Willie Harris walked before Wright beat out an infield single (and was removed for pinch-runner Josh Satin). Nick Evans then drove Harris home from second with a line drive to center field to give the Mets a one-run lead.

Batista took it from there. The 40-year-old allowed just four baserunners all game and notched five strikeouts in the sixth shutout of his career. Since coming to the Mets, he has a 2.64 ERA in nine appearances, four of them starts. His performance on Wednesday was the Mets' second complete-game shutout of the year, and Batista hopes to have the chance to do it again for the Mets next year.

"After 20 days without starting a game, to go out there and throw a shutout, I don't know what else I can do," Batista said with a laugh. "I always say that I'm a good utility right-handed pitcher. I pitch short, long from Monday to Sunday. Any day you need me, any time, just give me a call, and I'm ready to pitch."

"I heard he's 40 years old," Cincinnati's Joey Votto said. "For him to throw nine innings on the last day of the season, my hat's off to him. Very impressive."

The Mets added insurance runs in the sixth on Baxter's blast to the bullpen in right-center, his first homer in 49 Major League plate appearances.

Though the team finished the year well outside the playoff picture, both Collins and Wright feel that if Reyes returns and the team stays healthy, the Mets could be contenders in 2012. If nothing else, this year's team proved that the Mets will at least play as hard as they are capable of doing.

"I think there's a lot of optimism moving forward," Wright said. "We had some young players come up this year and really make a name for themselves. You like the feeling that's in this clubhouse every day. You have younger players that bring that energy, that go out there and want to prove something, and I think that's the right attitude to have."

"I know that everybody in here, including myself, is looking forward to some rest, but pretty soon we'll be ready and excited to go down to Port St. Lucie." Comments