Jose Reyes was at the plate last night in the sixth inning with one out and a runner on second base, and I felt something funny: I knew Reyes was going to get a hit and bring home the run. I was certain of it.
I refer to this feeling as “something funny” because it’s the first time I’ve experienced such certainty about any Mets player in a while. Probably the first time since Carlos Delgado’s farewell barrage from July to mid-September in 2008. Or maybe when David Wright tormented a pre-beard Brian Wilson in San Francisco two seasons ago during a May trip to the west coast. I really don’t remember. But it’s been some time. That’s the thing about these recent Mets. They’ve made everyone — the fans, the writers, and myself in particular — cynical. “Ya Gotta Believe” has become a sardonic lament rather than a genuine rallying cry. It’s become unrealistic to expect anything but a series of mild failures from the Mets.
But last night, for the first time in a while, I believed. Not hoped, or wished, or imagined. I believed a Mets player would succeed because it seemed more likely than not.
Reyes, of course, came through in the clutch. Jair Jurrjens left a changeup high, and Reyes punched it into center for a single, bringing noted super-genius Ruben Tejada home and making the score 4-1 in favor of the Mets. That extra run allowed them to survive Jason Isringhausen’s now-nightly laser show and win 4-3. Reyes finished 3-5 with an RBI and two runs scored, giving him a hand in three of the four New York runs.
That is what Reyes has done on a daily basis this season. He’s powered the Mets as much as any one player can. He has scored or driven in 26% percent of the Mets’ runs. (Jose Bautista has done the same for 23% of the Blue Jays’ runs.) Reyes has been a statistical dream, leading the National League in batting average, hits, runs scored, and triples; he is second in steals and one off the lead for doubles. It’s easier to list the categories he doesn’t lead in. But even beyond the microeconomics of run manufacturing, Reyes has crossed into that next level for an athlete. When he comes to the plate in a key situation – leading off an inning with the Mets behind, batting with an important run in scoring position – I genuinely believe Jose Reyes is going to get that hit, going to draw that walk and steal second, going to clear the bases with a triple. I think he’s going to succeed.
Then he does. Did you know a Mets player could do that? I didn’t know a Mets player could do that. Other teams are scared of him: After Reyes terrorized the Braves in New York two weekends ago, Atlanta resorted to watering down their infield last night to try to slow him down. That’s the best solution a professional baseball organization came up with for stopping Reyes. Try to make him slip in the mud. Maybe the next time Reyes is on first, Freddie Freeman should try to tie his shoelaces together when he’s not looking. It’s come to that.
But here’s the thing: I realize that no matter what happens next, this is as compelling as Jose Reyes will ever be. This is him fully realized, at the toppermost of the poppermost, but it’s all undercut. Because, while I’m now certain that Reyes is going to come through with big hits and steals, I’m uncertain where he will be playing in a month or two months or next year. And this particular uncertainty, a knowledge that the day might end, makes me enjoy Jose Reyes’ play in a way I know I never will again. Everything he does has added weight because these might be his last games in Queens. I find myself watching closer because I realize that whatever happens, it’s never going to be the same.
Reyes’ possible departure, either by trade of free agency, has been hanging over everything he’s done this season. As I’m sure you’ve noticed. During the Mets last home game, a national ESPN broadcast fans chanted “Don’t Trade Reyes” each time he came to the plate. (In the park, I actually heard it as just a “Jose Reyes” chant; the vowel sounds in both are identical.) The keep Reyes movement, more than anything, is consuming the fanbase. But as (sports) sad as Reyes’ departure would be, its possibility has made his play this season more enjoyable. Each triple could be his last one with the Mets, or his last steal, or the last time he throws up the claw. It wouldn’t be anywhere near as compelling without that possibility. It would still be fun, but it would lack that added level of drama. As strange as it is, Reyes is more interesting because he might leave.
This doesn’t hinge on Reyes actually leaving. Even if he remains after this season, it will never be as interesting. If he stays, it also means he’s no longer possibly-leaving, and the tension is broken. Reyes could remain with the Mets forever — and that’s a mighty long time — playing like this season after season and it would never be as much fun as it is right now. It would still be fun. He’s the most exciting player in baseaball. Just, it wouldn’t be as fun. Sports are more interesting when the outcome is uncertain. Games are more exciting when the score is close; teams are more interesting when they’re in the pennant race. Players are more interesting when they might not stay.
Which is why Jose Reyes, right now, is as compelling as anything in sports. He’s a top player realizing his potential, and it’s made more interesting because his future is uncertain. Reyes can do anything and go anywhere. This, right now, is how he’s going to be remembered. He has taken (what has to be) the most cynical fanbase in America and made it possible for them to believe again, if not in the team itself then at least in him. He’s made it possible for me, at least. Watch Jose Reyes. Whatever happens next, this is as good as it’s ever going to get.