It's beginning to look a lot like 2006 everywhere you go, at least in the Bronx and Queens. Nothing is certain yet, of course, but it is a good bet that the Yankees and Mets both will make the postseason for the first time since that season. And it is a really good bet that Carlos Beltran will go in and go down swinging this time.
Beltran's bat has been driving the Yankees within range of the playoffs, even if it is only that crapshoot wild-card game. His three-run home run in the first inning at Citi Field on Saturday changed the tone of that Subway Series and his two-run double in the sixth inning the next night was the pivotal shot.
He produced again Thursday night, hitting a searing line drive over the leftfield fence at Yankee Stadium -- off a 98-mph fastball from White Sox ace Chris Sale -- turning a scoreless game into a 3-0 Yankees lead. "As soon as I hit it, I thought it was going to be a double, but the ball kept going," said the player who keeps going.
That hit sent the Yankees to a 3-2 victory that moved them closer to a postseason berth. Combined with the Mets' progress toward their first National League East title in nine years, the air in New York is getting an October crispness.
This will be exciting. Honest. Forget that the weeknight crowds at both parks have not been noisily supercharged. Definitely forget the lasting image of Beltran's New York playoff experience: standing there with the bat on his shoulder for strike three as the 2006 Mets season ended.
That enduring tableau is a tad unfair to Beltran, who did hit 41 home runs and drive in 116 runs for the Mets that season before adding three home runs in that seven-game National League Championship Series loss to the eventual champion Cardinals.
In any event, that memory is growing older by the day -- and Beltran, 38, does not seem to be doing the same. Even though he is far removed from being the Yoenis Cespedes of his day, looking like Superman for the Astros late in 2004, he has picked up a lot of slack after Mark Teixeira went down. And Beltran does not have the luxury of being the designated hitter a couple of days a week, what with Alex Rodriguez being so valuable in that role.
Joe Girardi said he rested Beltran and other veterans early in the season "to get them to this point." The rightfielder was in the lineup Thursday night while several other regulars were given the night off, and Beltran came through. If it comes down to the single-game wild-card round, his will be a heck of a bat to have in the lineup.
You would think that the prospect of the playoff pumps him up. You would be wrong. "It doesn't really energize me, man," he said, adding that his goal is to be consistent in his routine rather than amped. "As a ballplayer, you get your good moments, you get your bad moments. You've got to work hard when things are not going well and you have to continue to work hard when things are going well."
With some luck, this could be even better than 2006. With two tickets to October, New York could get to feel as if it is 2000 again.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura, the Mets' third baseman back then and later a Yankee, said, "For us, it was exciting. The town was excited about two teams meeting in the World Series, which hadn't happened in a long time."
For now, New Yorkers will settle for seeing two doses of October baseball. It is worth taking a cue from Beltran. "I'm enjoying the moment," he said, "because I'm getting good results."