FLUSHING — It’s Oct. 19, 2006.
Trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by two runs in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, the New York Mets have the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
These are the types of moments where heroes emerge.
Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran had a chance to be a hero on that chilly October night in Flushing. Frankly, of anyone in that season’s potent Mets lineup, Beltran was the guy you’d want up there in that situation.
He always appeared calm, cool and collected. The gravity of the moment wouldn’t get to him, right?
The first pitch from Cardinals closer Adam Wainwright: down the middle for strike one. The second pitch: fouled off.
If you’re a diehard Mets fan like me, you know exactly what happened on that third pitch, since it’s been emblazoned on your soul for the past 13 years.
Seeing a nasty curveball from Wainwright, Beltran stood with the bat on his shoulder, taking strike three and sending the Cardinals to the World Series, where they eventually defeated the Detroit Tigers.
Why do I bring up this moment? Well, Beltran is now the manager of the Mets.
Beltran, 42, is open about his spiritual beliefs. He was featured in the documentary “Champions of Faith,” which tells the stories of Christian professional ballplayers and coaches.
“As I did as a player, I give the glory and honor to God,” Beltran said Nov. 4 at his introductory press conference. “I want to thank God for this opportunity. I’m very blessed to be standing up here as the manager of the New York Mets.”
With no coaching experience, Beltran takes over a team that won 86 games in 2019 under Mickey Callaway. Unfortunately, the Game 7 strikeout is still the one moment fans will always remember about Beltran.
However, that needs to change. Beltran was one of the top all-around players in franchise history. He spent parts of seven seasons in Queens and is among the leaders in most offensive categories, not to mention his excellent outfield defense and speed on the base paths.
Until Pete Alonso’s monster 53-home run season this year, Beltran shared the single-season franchise record for homers with 41, tied with Todd Hundley. The switch-hitter played 20 seasons and was a nine-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glover, the 1999 Rookie of the Year and a member of the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros.
Put another way, Beltran’s career should be remembered for much more than a three-pitch strikeout. He now has the chance to add to his Mets legacy as the team’s manager.
Beltran will be the 22nd manager and the first of Latino descent in franchise history. The Puerto Rico native started playing baseball when he was 5, and so although he doesn’t have any previous managerial experience, he knows the game inside out.
It should be noted though that success on the field as a player does not always equate to success in the dugout as a manager. It does help, though, that Beltran already knows the media scene in the Big Apple.
“When you come to New York, you have to understand that everything is going to be magnified,” he said. “The media coverage is going to be bigger than any place else. Coming from Kansas City and then coming from Houston, New York was a big difference for me.”
In addition to his vast baseball pedigree, Beltran will need to rely on his faith to help him adjust to his new role. As a manager, it’s never a bad thing to feel a divine connection.
“When I was a kid, I always grew up listening to my dad,” Beltran said in the “Champions of Faith” documentary. “Every time I wanted to do something, he said, ‘Remember when you do things, make sure you do it right because there’s someone up there. … It’s God watching you.’”
The watchful eye of God will guide Beltran through the biggest situations. If healthy, the 2020 Mets have many pieces to be a competitive team in the National League East — now featuring the World Series champion Washington Nationals.
So instead of standing at the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, Beltran must now prepare his players to thrive in that type of moment.
We know he’s a champion as a player, as well as a champion of faith. Now, fans who are starved for a World Series title turn to Beltran to see if he can become a champion as a manager.
Maybe a former superstar — who may someday wear a Mets cap in the Baseball Hall of Fame — is exactly what this team needs to get over the hump.
Welcome back Carlos and best of luck! No pressure, but it’s time to deliver a World Series victory back to the Queens faithful.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.