Reyes finds his smile as Mets cruise

Reyes finds his smile as Mets cruise

NEW YORK -- Before Jose Reyes dressed for the Mets' series opener against the Nationals on Tuesday night, he quite naturally undressed. Cap put aside, shoes removed, civvies hung in his locker.

And, after a conversation with Carlos Beltran, Reyes also shed the emotional straitjacket he had worn since the beginning of the season. At the urging -- no, coaxing -- of his teammate, he removed the robes of self-censorship he had tried on. They had proven to be a wardrobe malfunction of a different sort. Too tight, too restrictive. They had changed him, so he reciprocated.

And Reyes danced, and he resurrected that series of handshakes and hip bumps he had choreographed over the last three seasons, and then discarded out of fear of offending opponents. Most of all, Reyes smiled. That's what Beltran wanted most.

"A happy Jose makes us happy and better," Beltran said.

Improvement -- if it can actually be tied to the change Beltran observed -- began Tuesday, when the Mets overwhelmed the Nationals with Reyes contributing four hits and two runs. The second phase occurred Wednesday night in their 5-2 victory against the same opponent.

The home run Reyes didn't hit Tuesday when a cycle was within his reach came in the fifth inning on Wednesday, tying the score at 2. And three batters later, Dr. Beltran, now the team shrink, hit a decisive three-run home run, the Mets' third long ball of the game, and celebrated in the dugout with his re-energized, reprogrammed and thoroughly remarkable teammate. They partied like it was 2006.

"Did what he said make me hit a home run?" asked Reyes. "I don't know. Maybe. I feel like myself. I know I do."

And the Mets are confident the end of Reyes' masquerade will be the first phase of a team reversal.

"No one else makes us better like he does," Beltran said.

The latest episode of Mets 2008 had its genesis in the final weekend of the team's fall from grace -- and first place -- last season. The Marlins had been offended by the Mets' on-field celebrating in their lopsided victory in their 161st game. They carried the sense of insult into the last game, crushed Tom Glavine and the Mets' postseason aspirations and acknowledged their motivation.

Reyes decided over the winter he would pull back, restrict himself and cease on-field celebrating.

"I don't want to be the reason we lose," Reyes said in Spring Training, assuming more responsibility for the Marlins' reaction than he probably deserved.

But Beltran and others thought he was a diminished force in his revised, supposedly more mature state of being. Pennants aren't won by walking on eggshells.

"I think he missed himself," Beltran said Wednesday night. "I think we missed him, too. We like what he does. He's not trying to offend anybody. And if they are offended, we can't worry about that. He should be himself and the person we need him to be."

Beltran began looking for an opportunity to present his suggestions to Reyes. He chose the day after an off-day, in the moments that followed Reyes' pregame test of his strained hamstring.

"I told him to forget what they say," Beltran said. "We need him."

"He told me I was fake," Reyes said. "Not the real Jose Reyes. That's what he saw. He said, 'You make everybody better when you do what you do best.'"

The 25-year-old shortstop said the lower-key approach had been "hard for me." He said of his normal manner, "That's what got me to the big leagues," though he wouldn't go so far as to say his happiness had hit the home run.

"We like what he does. He's not trying to offend anybody. And if they are offended, we can't worry about that. He should be himself and the person we need him to be."
-- Carlos Beltran on Jose Reyes

Reyes' long ball was his first of the season, as was Beltran's, though the Mets' center fielder was quick to recall a home run that was ruled a double in Miami in the season's third game. Ryan Church slugged a home run in the first inning, his second of 2008, to tie the score after winning pitcher John Maine (1-1) had trouble overcoming inertia. All three home runs came against left-handed losing pitcher Matt Chico (0-3). The Mets, who had hit three home runs in their first nine games, have hit six in their last four.

But reprogramming Reyes may prove to be the most powerful stroke of the week, and one that suggests Beltran is making an effort to fill the leadership void in the clubhouse. The Mets don't have a universally recognized go-to guy. David Wright does all that he can, and more than most. Carlos Delgado seems reluctant to be an influence, though Beltran conferred with him before approaching Reyes.

Beltran acknowledges that he prefers less limelight. His challenging pronouncement in Spring Training that the Mets were the club to beat was not an indication of him stepping into the void created by the departure of Glavine and Paul Lo Duca and the absence of Pedro Martinez and Moises Alou. He maintains he wasn't really challenging Jimmy Rollins.

But his approaching Reyes, as a player of influence, is not an insignificant development. At the least, it is an element in the Mets' coming together and another indication that Beltran is increasingly comfortable in his skin.

"I like what he did," Reyes said. "He helped me."

And now the idea -- and this is what Beltran sought -- is for Reyes to energize the others.

"He can do it," Beltran said. "We know he can. When he's not happy and comfortable, that affects his game. When he is, that affects everybody else."

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