The Mets’ circle of life at shortstop took an abrupt and poetic turn on Wednesday, when in short order the man who held that job for most of this century retired, and a fresh face landed in his first big-league starting lineup.
The former was Jose Reyes, who played 12 seasons for the Mets, most recently in 2018 and for the first time in 2003, the day before his 20th birthday.
The latter was Andres Gimenez, 21, a prized, homegrown prospect who was a surprise member of the opening day roster and played a role in the first five games before getting a start against the Red Sox.
If Gimenez sticks, there forever will be a historical bridge from Reyes to him. In 2018 their paths crossed during spring training.
“We had a really good conversation,” Gimenez said in English before the game during an interview in which he answered some questions in English and others in Spanish.
“I asked him advice about the game, about running the bases, about defense. It’s been really good for me, that advice.”
Gimenez might well have been playing in Triple-A this summer had not the COVID-19 pandemic erased the minor league season and allowed for expanded rosters in the majors.
Amed Rosario is ahead of him on the shortstop depth chart but was given Wednesday off after the team got back from Boston at 4 a.m.
That opened the door for Gimenez. He was 0-for-4 at the plate entering the night, but in his first at-bat, he stroked a 97-mph fastball from Nathan Eovaldi the opposite way to leftfield for his first big-league hit.
In the empty quiet of Citi Field, his teammates could be cheering excitedly for him on the bench, calling for the ball as a keepsake.
It got even better. After popping out to shortstop in his second at-bat, he tripled to center — Reyes-style — to drive home Robinson Cano, who is 16 years his senior, and give the Mets a 3-2 lead in the sixth. He later struck out in his final at-bat.
Afterward, manager Luis Rojas said the triple was evidence of a refined approach compared to when Rojas managed Gimenez at Double-A Binghamton in 2018. “Now it’s, like, more calm, and he’s able to create a little more leverage,” Rojas said. “Hitting a ball over [Red Sox centerfielder] Jackie Bradley like he did, he’s done a lot of work.
“I’m expecting him to do something like that, impact that ball more than what I was used to seeing from him two years ago.”
While reporters asked Rojas big-picture questions about Gimenez’s future role, Rojas insisted on focusing on the immediate benefits.
“Right now, he is definitely going to put us in a better position to win games with everything he brings to us,” Rojas said.
Rojas managed Gimenez in Double-A Binghamton in 2018, where he batted .277. But Gimenez’s statistics fell off in Binghamton last season, when he batted .250 (with nine home runs and 37 RBI) before he bounced back in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .371.
“There were a lot of moving parts at the plate, and he was a different type of hitter than what he is right now,” Rojas said. “That’s the beauty of the minor league system, especially with a kid like him who is a sponge with so much skill and confidence at the same time.
“This kid went from being almost like a slap hitter, a spray hitter, not a lot of pop in his bat . . . Last year I believe was a great learning curve.”
Rojas was looking forward to watching Gimenez display all his skills, which the manager said include playing three positions at a high level — including second and third base.
Gimenez said that after getting into games over the season’s first week he was not surprised by the starting nod, and intended to treat the game like any other.
He said he had not given much thought to the fact that if not for the pandemic, he might not be at Citi Field.
“I don’t have any control over that, at the end of the day,” he said.
Gimenez said Rosario and other teammates have offered advice and support. So does Rojas believe Gimenez will benefit more from limited time in the big leagues than from starting in the minors? He does.
“Absolutely, just being here for him is great, not only for him but for us,” Rojas said. “I just described to you what an asset this kid is for us. We’re grateful to have him.”
Gimenez has a long way to go to fashion a career that can compare to Reyes’. But Wednesday was a start.
Said Rojas, “I think right now he is where he belongs.”