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Beltran nearly steals the show in return

Beltran nearly steals the show

NEW YORK -- Carlos Beltran made his long-anticipated return to the Mets' lineup on Tuesday, going 1-for-4 with a double in the team's 4-2 loss to the Marlins. Beltran came about two feet from making it a very memorable comeback, flying out to the warning track in right field with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh inning.

"Today, I felt like a kid in the playground," Beltran said. "It was good to be out here with the boys."

The Mets have missed Beltran as much as he's missed them. When Beltran last took the field on June 21, the Mets were 34-33 and two games out of first place in the National League East. After Tuesday's loss, they are 62-76, 17 games behind the first-place Phillies.

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After receiving a nice ovation from the Citi Field faithful in the bottom of the second, Beltran struck out on four pitches against Marlins starter Rick VandenHurk, swinging and missing on a 1-2 changeup. He flied out to left in the fourth, blooped a double down the left-field line in the sixth and just missed that grand slam in the seventh.

He also added one of his signature sliding catches in the outfield, taking a hit away from Jorge Cantu in shallow left-center in the eighth inning. Beltran had no problem sliding on his right knee to make the play.

"You can't fake those sort of plays," he said. "You just react to those. Like I said, if I have the opportunities to go after a ball like that, I'm going to do it."

Beltran is not worried about waking up sore Wednesday, having played back-to-back nine-inning games during his rehabilitation assignment at Class A Brooklyn earlier this week.

Beltran missed the past 2 1/2 months with a bone bruise on his right knee. While the injury was supposed to keep Beltran out only until the All-Star break, it has taken significantly longer to heal than either Beltran or the Mets expected.

Beltran acknowledged on Tuesday that although the bruise has diminished in size, it is still there. He does expect that the bruise will go away with proper rest in the offseason.

The center fielder, however, never contemplated sitting out the rest of the season, even with the Mets far from the playoff hunt. Asked why he came back, Beltran responded, "Why not? This is my job."

Before the injury, Beltran was hitting .336 with a team-leading eight home runs and 40 RBIs. Remarkably, the eight home runs are still good for third on the team. Beltran doesn't expect to be able to return to that form right away. He was 3-for-20 during his rehabilitation at Brooklyn.

"Two-and-a-half months out, I don't expect to go out and be perfect," Beltran said.

Beltran's five replacements, including Angel Pagan and Fernando Martinez, combined to hit .277 with seven home runs in his absence, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Pagan, who got the bulk of the playing time in center field with Beltran out, moves over to left field in Tuesday's lineup. Manuel said Pagan would split time in left with Cory Sullivan, who has a six-game hitting streak and is 7-for-16 with two home runs in September.

The Mets are also still planning on having John Maine make his first start in over three months on Sunday night in Philadelphia. Maine, who last started a big league game on June 6, threw a light bullpen session on Tuesday and is scheduled to pitch to hitters on Thursday. If all goes well then, he can take the mound on Sunday. Manuel mentioned that recent callup Tobi Stoner could back up Maine in the nightcap of Sunday's doubleheader if necessary.

"Right now, it feels good," Maine said of his shoulder, adding that while it isn't at 100 percent, it probably hasn't been 100 percent since Spring Training of 2008. He, like Beltran, saw no reason not to return at this point of the season and is confident that with an organized rehab plan and a winter of rest, the issue will go away.

For now, Maine is ecstatic to be up with the Mets instead of down at the rehab facility in Port St. Lucie.

"It was miserable. It was very boring," Maine said. "I saw every movie out there."

Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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