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Chavez trying to move beyond catch

Chavez trying to move beyond 'nice catch'

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- This just in: Endy Chavez batted .306 in 2006.

Not that it matters all that much now, but when the 2006 regular season ended and his hits (108) divided by his at-bats (353) yielded a quotient that featured a "3" just to the right of the decimal point, it was pretty big doings for the young man.

Slugging and on-base percentages and their offspring, OPS, have made batting average a less critical barometer of performance. But a .3-something average still has cache. And Chavez batted .306 in 2006.

Now, though, no one notices. Or, if they do notice, they don't care. An accomplishment of which Chavez is justly proud has been obscured, overshadowed by his going over the wall, superseded by the Superman catch he made in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series in October.

It was the catch of the day, the catch of the series, maybe the best catch in baseball's 1,171-game postseason history in terms of athleticism and impact. But one of the elements of the impact is that the catch that denied Scott Rolen a home run and the Cardinals' two runs and a lead, also has denied Chavez some of the due he earned in his first season with the Mets.

"All they want to know is the catch, the catch, the catch," he said. "I hit .300 for the first time in my career, and no one knows. Some people don't even say, 'Hi.' They say, 'Nice catch.'"

They're caught up in the catch, and little else matters. In some ways, Chavez's identity is limited to one play as the identity of Mookie Wilson has been limited. In moments of candor, Wilson will say, "I had a 12-year career, and now it's down to one at-bat." And records do show that Wilson did more than top a ground ball to the right side on Oct. 25, 1986.

As New York learned last summer -- and apparently forgot -- Chavez is more than a one-catch pony. He plays the game: runs the bases, throws out runners, hits and, yes, he makes catches -- routine, good, great, game-altering and nearly career-altering.

"If we get into the World Series because of his catch," John Maine said, "Endy would be our hero of the year."

"If we win that game -- can you imagine?" Carlos Beltran said.

"If he came up with a hit in that inning and we went on to win the World Series, he'd have has his own private parade," Paul Lo Duca said.

Alas, the game, the series and an exalted and permanent place in baseball history for the Mets' No. 4 outfielder all went away three innings later.

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Chavez has allowed himself some "what-if" moments. What if the Mets had won? What if he had provided the critical hit? He did have opportunity to double his heroism. He batted with the bases loaded and two out in the sixth inning, a half-inning after his catch. But he swung at the first pitch and flied to center.

"That's the only thing I'd change about my season," he said. "Everyone told me, if I get a hit in the sixth inning, we would win for sure."

Instead, his stunning catch stands as the lone indelible mark he made on the series. But it was so good, so athletic, so critical, it has taken a place among the most memorable outfield catches in the busy history of postseason baseball in New York, along with those made by Al Gionfriddo, Sandy Amoros, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Tommie Agee, Ron Swoboda and Elston Howard.

It was so good, it deserves to share a phrase with the series it nearly changed -- best of seven: best play of Game 7, best play of the seven-game series and best of play of the No. 7 position, left field. Though Mays' catch in the 1954 World Series is widely recognized for its grandeur, only Amoros' catch in the 1955 World Series compares with Chavez's October leap in terms of impact.

It, too, came in an ultimate game, and it also was in left field. Chances are, if Amoros didn't catch Yogi Berra's fly ball into the corner at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees would have scored one run, not the two they needed to tie the score.

Had Chavez not caught Rolen's drive off Oliver Perez, the Cardinals would have needed a two-run lead with nine outs to reach the World Series.

Once Chavez extended his right hand and glove well above the wall to spare Perez, he and the other Mets were certain they would prevail in the decisive game. "That was a sign," Chavez said.

"We all thought we were going to win after that," Billy Wagner said. "You don't assume anything. But when Endy went over the wall, I figured I'd be in the game in the ninth.

"When we didn't get the runs in in the bottom of the inning, it knocked us down a little. But we still had our chances in the ninth."

Three runs and a victory would have catapulted Chavez back to hero status.

"I know that now, but all I was thinking about then was winning," he said. "I would give away the catch if we got into the World Series."

Not that Chavez isn't proud of his play. It holds a large place -- about three feet by six feet -- in his life. A framed three-shot sequence of the play hangs prominently in his living room in Venezuela.

"I go past it all the time," he said. "Sometimes, I stop and look at it. It was a good play -- a good play to make. Sometimes, I say, 'How did I catch that?'"

And there's no picture of him batting .306 anywhere.

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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