PHILADELPHIA — As Jose Reyes prepared for Friday night’s game against the Phillies, he considered being just six hours away from securing his first trip to the playoffs in a decade. That was during Reyes’ previous life in a Mets’ uniform, as a 23-year-old shortstop for the 2006 NL East champs, a 97-win team that fell one swing short of the World Series.
To think that in a few short hours, Reyes might be celebrating with these new teammates, spraying champagne, partying in the visitors’ clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park, was almost too much to process. The Mets moved a step closer with Friday’s 5-1 win over the Phillies. Could it actually happen?
“Wow,” Reyes said, then pausing for a deep breath. “Wow, man. I’ve laid in bed thinking about that very thing. Because it’s been a long time for me.”
The Mets, with the young stars Reyes and David Wright at their core, were supposed to be regular October visitors, perennial contenders from that point on. Instead, the franchise gradually came apart, piece by piece, a little more each season, until Reyes eventually left for the Marlins and Wright withered under the stress of trying to carry the Mets on his own.
But Friday, those memories came flooding back to Reyes, after what felt like an eternity away from a team he never wanted to bolt in the first place. Let’s just say Reyes has been through a lot since then, as well as made a terrible mistake and pleaded for forgiveness to get this second chance after a lengthy suspension for domestic violence.
There’s no changing that. It’s part of who Reyes is now, and really, why he’s back with the Mets. When Reyes returned in late June, he knew this could be possible, to earn another shot at the playoffs. But it still took months to get this close again, and as Reyes stood poised on the verge Friday, he talked about how different things are now.
Back on that ’06 team, Reyes was the boy wonder, seeking to impress a veteran crew of Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado. A decade later, at 33, he’s one of the old guys, trying to prove himself to a new generation. Reyes isn’t as fast, or as smooth, or as explosive as he once was. Who is? He does see some common threads, however, between those ’06 Mets and this resilient bunch, which was 5 1/2 games out of the wild card in mid-August.
“One thing that is similar is that we never give up,” Reyes said. “We’re always going to push all the way to the end. So that’s really good to see. This year, we’re fighting to get into the wild card. It’s fun, yeah, but as a player, you want to do it earlier. You don’t want to wait until the last game of the season.”
Reyes is painfully familiar with the hazards of drawing these things out until the final day. His ’07 Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 to play in losing the NL East to the Phillies. The next year, it happened again, to a lesser but still disastrous degree, as the Mets allowed a 3 1/2-game cushion to evaporate over the final 17.
These Mets, at worst, can’t duplicate those twin calamities. Reyes helped instigate a benches-clearing event during that last weekend in ’07 by getting into a shouting match with Marlins catcher — and friend — Miguel Olivo. Otherwise, Reyes actually was booed in Flushing because of his disappointing finishes to both seasons, so this opportunity represents a shot at redemption, on many levels.
“When I was sitting at home, in April and May, I wondered if I was going to be playing baseball again,” Reyes said. “And here I am, almost making it to the playoffs, with the team that I came up to play for in the big leagues. Who knew that I was going to be here in this situation right now. Sometimes, when I wake up, I still can’t believe that I’m part of the Mets organization again, so Im looking forward to what’s next.”
For Reyes, after all this time, it’s getting closer.