Reyes crowned Mets' first batting champion
Shortstop bunts for base hit in what may be final act with team
NEW YORK -- The final act was not a buzz of electricity but a solitary pulse. Jose Reyes strutted to the plate in the first inning of Wednesday's season finale at Citi Field, bunted the second pitch he saw, raced down the first-base line and reached safely.
Seconds later, Reyes walked back to the dugout, racked his bat and helmet and took his seat on the bench, in what may have been his final acts as a Met. Within moments, fans realized what was taking place and began booing.
Reyes' average stood at .337, plus a few hundred-thousandths of a point. The shortstop hosted a private party at his Long Island home later Wednesday, watching his lone remaining competitor for the National League batting title, Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, go 0-for-4 to finish at .332 and officially crown Reyes the first batting champion in Mets history.
"That's not an easy thing to do, to win a batting title," Reyes said. "There are so many good hitters around the league."
Braun, whose career average stands 20 points higher than that of Reyes, is among them. But the Brewers outfielder entered Wednesday's play trailing Reyes by more than a full point in the batting race, prompting Reyes to plan his bunt-and-bolt strategy. After hearing on television that one hit would swing the race heavily in his favor, Reyes asked Mets manager Terry Collins to let him leave the game if he managed to reach safely in his first at-bat.
An emotional Collins recalled the conversation -- and the public reaction -- shortly after Wednesday's game.
"I've heard some comments in the stands," Collins said, fighting back tears. "I don't blame them. 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. I've worked hard to get their respect this year and they deserve ours."
"They have to understand what's going on," Reyes said. "They have to feel happy if I win the batting title. I do it for the team and for the fans, too."
In Milwaukee, Braun took a neutral stance after watching the scene unfold.
"I respect whatever decision he decided to make, and ultimately, he left the door open for me," Braun said. "I'm not really here to judge him."
If it was his final act as a Met, Reyes made certain to scorch it into the memories of all 28,816 fans in attendance, many of whom came to offer the shortstop cautious farewells. At the conclusion of the World Series, Reyes will officially become a free agent. And despite his stated preference to remain in New York, Reyes has been careful to avoid stating his intentions.
He plans to meet with his agents in New York before traveling back to his native Dominican Republic. The entire group will huddle and map out a plan.
Beyond that, Reyes has revealed nothing other than glimpses of emotion. He is nervous about the process. He is excited.
"It's in my mind, to be honest," Reyes said. "I'm comfortable here, but it's still too soon to talk about that."
If it is the end, it has been a long, eventful, sometimes successful and sometimes disappointing road for Reyes, who signed in 1999 as a skinny, clean-shaven 16-year old with little knowledge of the English language and American culture. The ensuing dozen years brought with them myriad leg injuries, an unsuccessful second-base experiment, a contract extension and a playoff appearance. Only one playoff appearance.
And yet, due to his long list of personal achievements, Reyes' Mets career has been nothing short of a marked success. When the shortstop departed Citi Field late Wednesday evening, he did so as a confident, accomplished 28-year-old with tattoos, dreadlocks and a reggaeton record label, with a batting title potentially in tow.
That latest accomplishment will always have its detractors, and yet, Wednesday's controversial strategy was not without precedent. Thirteen years ago, the Yankees removed Bernie Williams from the final game of their season to ensure a batting-title victory over Boston's Mo Vaughn; up to that point, Williams had been 2-for-2 with a walk.
Conversely, Reyes' early departure came on the 70th anniversary of Hall of Famer Ted Williams' decision to play out the final day of the 1941 regular season, despite the fact that Major League Baseball would have rounded up his .39955 average for record-keeping purposes. Citing a desire to exceed baseball's hallowed .400 mark on his own terms, Williams went 6-for-8 in a doubleheader to finish at .406.
In most cases, however, history tends to gloss over the details. Years from now, most will remember only that Reyes won the batting title -- not how he did it.
His teammates left Citi Field late Wednesday afternoon rightly assuming that Reyes would achieve his goal. A canvas with the shortstop's likeness and the words "2011 NL Batting Champ" leaned against his locker. Three bottles of wine, one of them uncorked, flanked an open bottle of Gatorade. Reyes left the stadium for good sometime after 4 p.m. ET, sporting designer sunglasses and a winter hat.
The Mets are not sure if he will return.
"I'm not very good at looking ahead or planning," third baseman and longtime teammate David Wright said. "I'm really expecting to see him in Spring Training."
"Every day, I hope the shortstop returns," Collins said, "because he gives us the best team."