Carlos Beltran makes first return to Citi Field

St. Louis Cardinals' Carlos Beltran yells after hitting St. Louis Cardinals' Carlos Beltran yells after hitting a two-run triple during the fifth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves. (May 11, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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The hotly anticipated return of Carlos Beltran to Citi Field could fizzle Friday night if the Cardinals rightfielder isn't over the right knee pain that kept him out of the lineup Wednesday.

Beltran, who spent 6 1/2 seasons with the Mets before being traded to the Giants for pitching prospect Zack Wheeler last July 27, didn't start against Tim Hudson -- even though he owned the Braves righthander with a .351 average (26-for-74) and four home runs. The Cardinals were off Thursday.

"Honestly, it's one of those things I wanted to be out there," Beltran told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Wednesday. "But at the same time, I want to make sure I don't take a step back. I want to keep moving forward. I guess there are going to be situations when I need to take a day if I want to keep moving in the right direction."

Beltran did have a pinch-hit single in the Cardinals' 10-7 loss. He immediately was removed for a pinch runner.

The Mets are planning a video tribute for Beltran whether he plays or not, similar to the one they staged for Jose Reyes' return in April. Beltran played in 839 regular-season games for the Mets, batting .280 with 149 home runs, 559 RBIs and 100 stolen bases.

But knee problems wrecked several years of Beltran's Mets tenure. He perhaps is best known in Flushing for keeping the bat on his shoulder for the final out of the 2006 NLCS against the Cardinals and current teammate Adam Wainwright.

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"I'm sure that he has some great memories here," David Wright said. "He probably has some not-so-great memories here, too, of what we were unable to accomplish. All in all, I think he'll be the first one to tell you that he enjoyed his time here and he put up some monster years, so I think that it'll be good for him and hopefully he gets that kind of positive reaction. He was a big part of this team for a lot of years."

Beltran's best Mets season was 2006, when he hit .275 with 41 home runs and 116 RBIs. He hit .296 with three home runs against the Cardinals in the NLCS, but nobody really remembers that as much as the final curveball from Wainwright, Friday night's starting pitcher for the Cardinals.

Beltran entered Thursday with a National League-best 15 home runs along with 42 RBIs and a .294 batting average for St. Louis after signing a two-year, $26-million contract to be part of the Cardinals' post-Albert Pujols plans.

Beltran's contract with the Mets was for seven years and $119 million. At the time, he was a centerfielder coming off a dominant 2004 postseason with the Astros in which he hit .435 with eight home runs in two series. He was at his peak as one of baseball's best all-around players.

"We saw what he was capable of doing when he was here," Wright said. "He had some tremendous years for us."

The Mets weren't sad to see him go, though, as general manager Sandy Alderson flipped him to the Giants for Wheeler, who is dazzling in Double-A. The righthander, who turned 22 on Wednesday, is 4-2 with a 1.97 ERA in eight starts.

"The reports say that Wheeler is beating the league," Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen said. "That he's doing quite well. He's not walking anybody, commanding the fastball, the breaking ball is getting to where he wants it. We're getting nothing but glowing reports on him. We got a very good man in return [for Beltran]."

Notes & quotes: The Mets announced that catcher Josh Thole and righthanded pitcher Elvin Ramirez will join the team Friday. Thole was placed on the disabled list May 8 with a concussion and was on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Buffalo. Ramirez, 3-0 with a save, had not been scored on in 14 2/3 innings in 11 games for Buffalo. The Mets outrighted reliever Manny Acosta to Buffalo.

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