PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Despite assurances that Carlos Beltran will be ready for Opening Day, the Mets still treat his every stride as if he were Neil Armstrong. One small step for Beltran is supposed to be one giant leap for the franchise, so the fact that he scored from second base Sunday in the Mets' 6-5 win over the Red Sox was a cause for celebration.
"I thought it was huge," manager Terry Collins said. "That was a brighter spot than what he did at the plate for me."
In reality, it wasn't too much to get excited about. Beltran started at DH in the team's continuing efforts to protect his arthritic right knee and went 1-for-3, with a single in his opening at-bat against Boston starter Michael Bowden.
Once he reached base, however, things began to get more interesting. Beltran stayed anchored at second on consecutive fly balls by Ike Davis and Scott Hairston, maintaining contact with the bag the entire time. But when Daniel Murphy lined a single to rightfield, Beltran took off, lumbering around third base before sliding into the plate.
"I was feeling tight," said Beltran, who described his effort level at roughly 80 percent. "But there was no pain, thank God."
Beltran was not the only one saying a silent prayer. The Red Sox didn't throw home on the play, but that didn't kill any of the suspense for Collins, who watched the event unfold with equal parts horror and excitement. As conservative as Beltran's rehab plan had been to that point, third-base coach Chip Hale waved him in with abandon.
"What the hell are you doing scoring him?" Collins half-jokingly asked Hale. The coach replied, "I'm testing him," which turned out to be fine as long as Beltran walked off the field under his own power.
"What the heck," Collins later said. "He showed when he came around third base that he was running good."
Good enough, but not like the Beltran that was labeled a five-tool player when the Mets signed him to a seven-year, $119-million contract before the 2005 season. Much has happened since then. Beltran has required three arthroscopic procedures on his knees, including two on the right one, in less than three years.
He even considered microfracture surgery in January 2010 before settling on an operation that was less invasive but still cost him most of last season.
The strange part about this spring training is that Beltran did not have surgery during the offseason but still is behaving like a player coming off rehab, which is why the Mets - along with his input - are limiting him to DH duties until next week.
When asked Sunday about when he will play rightfield, Beltran refused to look that far ahead. "I'm going to approach this day by day," he said. "I'm happy I was able to go out there and get three at-bats and be able to do some things on the bases. I'll see where we go tomorrow."
Beltran, even with his meticulous program, did push himself in one respect Sunday. He didn't hesitate to slide across the plate, even though it was unnecessary.
It's typical for players with knee issues to practice on a sliding mat in spring training before going full speed in a game, but Beltran surprised himself.
He had planned to test out a few slides Saturday during his workout, but he instead opted to run in the hydrotherapy pool to prepare for Sunday's start against Boston. Fortunately, Beltran survived both his 180-foot dash and feet-first slide without incident.
"Once I'm playing in games, I'm not really trying to be cautious," he said. "I'm just trying to play the game the way it is. On that particular play, I needed to score."