The question came to Carlos Beltran at about 4 o'clock Tuesday afternoon - something to the tune of "How do you think you'll be received tonight, in your first home game of the season?" - and in the centerfielder's response, you could hear both a sigh and a scowl.
"Who knows?" Beltran asked. "I'm happy to be here. I'm happy to be playing."
Six hours later, for the first time in gosh knows how long, the feeling was mutual in Flushing. So many, well, amazin' things occurred at Citi Field, leading to an 8-2 trouncing of the dangerous Cardinals and Cy Young Award candidate Adam Wainwright. For every question that emerged, the beleaguered Mets had an answer, alleviating the pain from their 2-9 western trip that cast such dark clouds over the organization.
Jeff Francoeur excelled in place of the concussed Jason Bay, and bench coach Dave Jauss performed just fine in place of the suspended Jerry Manuel. Yet most important, arguably, was Beltran. The 33-year-old staved off the impression that he's not only finished as a productive player, but also a spiritual killjoy to his teammates. Against Wainwright, of all people, for the first such batter-pitcher matchup since Wainwright caught Beltran looking at a curveball to end the 2006 National League Championship Series.
"My time will come," a stoic Beltran said afterward. "I have confidence in what I'm capable of doing. The way I started the season wasn't the best way to start. Like I said, after being out for so long, I wasn't expecting to come in and be sharp. I knew that this time was going to come. It comes with work, and working hard to get there."
Added Manuel: "We just have to give Carlos time. He's a guy who can carry us."
Was Beltran terrible during that road swing to kick off the second half? Pretty much, yeah. A .268 on-base percentage and .250 slugging percentage won't quite justify an $18.5-million salary. But was he dragging down the rest of the team with him? Only in the sense that he was using up precious outs.
When he stepped to the plate with none out and David Wright on first in the second, Beltran received mild applause, heightened by the Mets' scoreboard urgings to "Make noise!" Then he sent a double down the leftfield line, moving Wright to third and ending - when Wright scored on Ike Davis' grounder to second - the Mets' scoreless streak at 17 innings.
Francoeur's crucial homer followed Beltran's one-out walk and Davis' single. And in the fifth, Beltran sent an ultra-soft line drive to short leftfield, singling home Angel Pagan from second base for a 6-1 lead.
Only upon Wainwright's departure did Beltran fail to reach base, as he grounded out to first against reliever Fernando Salas.
Yes, it became a night of renewal for the Mets. Manuel, sounding desperate in the afternoon, said: "What we've got to do is win a game. It doesn't matter if it's 1-0 or 2-1. We've got to win a game . . . We've got to do everything we can to win a baseball game."
Those who came to Citi Field saw more than just a victory. They witnessed a one-night fantasy, as the Mets improved their home record to 31-16.
Maybe the Mets can dominate this week, causing them to acquire a pitcher by Saturday's non-waivers trading deadline. Maybe the lineup is awake now.
Or maybe this served as a one-night reprieve for another doomed season.
Beltran could be the key determinant. He might not truly be happy to be a Met. Yet if he plays up to whom he is, perhaps he and Mets fans can finally connect and enjoy something great together.