Looking back on Carlos Beltran as a Met

Carlos Beltran struck out looking in Game 7 Carlos Beltran struck out looking in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS to end the season against St. Louis Cardinals closer Adam Wainwright. (Oct. 19, 2006) Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

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In January 2005, when Carlos Beltran stepped to the podium at Shea Stadium, the future never looked brighter for the Mets.

Pedro Martinez signed earlier that winter, and David Wright and Jose Reyes were the young, fresh faces of the franchise.

But none of them offered the promise of Beltran, a five-tool centerfielder whose $119- million contract was the richest in Mets history at that time. Shortly after slipping on his No. 15 jersey, Beltran pledged a transformation in Flushing.

"I'm proud to be a part of the new Mets," he said. "I call it the new Mets because this organization is going in the right direction -- the direction of winning."

Soon came the obvious question. After stints in Kansas City and Houston, what about the pressures of New York?

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"I expect a lot from myself," Beltran said. "What I will do is what I have done my whole career -- have fun."

Fast forward to Wednesday's's news that the Mets have traded Beltran to the Giants, and it could be argued that his most enjoyable season as a Met turned out to be his final one. Even more than 2006, when Beltran helped the Mets run away with the division title -- but later became the symbol of frustration by taking that third strike from the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright to end Game 7 of the NLCS.

To some, that will be Beltran's enduring legacy, because neither he nor the Mets have played on the big stage since that October night at Shea. The Mets reached the postseason once with Beltran and managed to win one playoff series.

Beltran hardly deserves all of the blame for that. But he got off to a rocky start with the team's fan base, and the Mets' subsequent collapses -- along with his chronic knee issues -- made Beltran an easy scapegoat for the club's perennial failures.

He was booed in his first season, when he batted a subpar .266 with 16 home runs and 78 RBIs in 151 games, a major downgrade from his combined 38 homers for the Royals and Astros the previous season.

The next season, after Beltran started to hear boos again, he refused to emerge from the dugout for a curtain call -- until Julio Franco finally nudged him to the top step. What Beltran said afterward pretty much summed up his uneasy relationship with the fans in New York.

"They have been booing me for two days and I hit a home run and suddenly they love me," Beltran said. "What can I do? Let me put it this way: I'm a friend for you when you're doing well and I'm there for you when you're not doing so well. Here it's different."

Beltran's early years as a Met were layered with disappointment and marred by injuries. In 2005, he had a career-threatening collision with Mike Cameron, who was moved to rightfield to accommodate Beltran's arrival. Cameron got the worst of it, but Beltran returned to the lineup despite breaking a small bone in his face.

Chronic knee issues sapped his talents after the 2008 season. The next two years, Beltran played a total of 145 games, and he clashed with ownership in deciding to have knee surgery a month before spring training in 2010.

That procedure, at least in part, was likely done with an eye on free agency, and Beltran responded this year with his best season since 2008 (.284, 27 homers, 112 RBIs in 161 games). He was among the players that principal owner Fred Wilpon knocked in an article in The New Yorker back in May. But rather than shoot back, Beltran became more of clubhouse leader, as well as an All-Star and the most valuable outfielder on the trade market.

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During last week's homestand, one Met watched Beltran speak to reporters at his locker and lamented, "Why does he have to be leaving now?"

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