The Mets lost Jose Reyes for three weeks and Carlos Beltran for three days. Having them both back in the lineup Tuesday night, it was evident just how much the Mets lost with their top two hitters out.
Reyes had two hits and a lead-preserving double play in the eighth inning and Beltran went 3-for-3 to help the Mets to a 4-2 win over the Cardinals that brought them back to the .500 mark.
Reyes' hamstring looked well healed as he singled twice in five at-bats and made a couple of smooth plays in the field, including a quick move to second to start a 6-3 double play on Albert Pujols' bouncer with the bases loaded in the eighth.
"I've got to be careful [not] to get myself in trouble here," Terry Collins said, "but it's quite obvious what he means."
Collins was referring to the amount of money it will take to keep Reyes, who doesn't appear at all likely to be traded in the 11 days between now and the July 31 trade deadline.
Beltran is a different story. There were numerous scouts at Citi Field Tuesday night to see Beltran return from a three-day absence because of the flu, in which he said he lost five pounds and felt like he was "hitting the ball with a newspaper" when he tried to take batting practice Sunday.
When he laced a double to right off Kyle Lohse in the first inning, he chased away any lingering doubts about his energy level. He followed with another double, his NL-leading 30th, in the third and then Lohse walked Beltran twice, leading to all of the Mets runs.
"I feel good, I'm just happy to get some quality at-bats," he said.
Lohse walked Beltran with two on and no outs in the fifth, and Angel Pagan delivered a one-out double to score two runs. Lohse again was careful with Beltran with one on and one out in the sixth and Daniel Murphy doubled to the centerfield wall off Raul Valdes to score two more.
"That's what they do -- they put other people in the lineup where they can have more success," Collins said.
Bobby Parnell loaded the bases in the eighth on two hits and a hit by pitch, but he won the battle with Pujols, who was 0-for-4 and grounded into two double plays, including the one started by Reyes to keep the 4-2 lead in the eighth.
"Without him back there, it'd be a different game," said Parnell, who put Pujols in an 0-and-2 hole with a couple of 100-mph fastballs and got the bouncer on an off-speed pitch. "We want to show [the guys in the bullpen] can do the job."
Jason Isringhausen pitched a perfect ninth for his first save in three years.
Beltran reiterated his preference to remain a Met, but he knows the score.
"It doesn't matter what I think. It matters what [the Mets] think," he said.
Proving he was over the flu bug helped the Mets win, but it certainly could enhance his trade value and hasten his departure either this week or next.
Until then, the Mets could enjoy a night with their two best players returning and contributing in all areas.
"Hopefully, we start winning some ballgames," Beltran said, "and we can all stay here."