If you're a Mets fan or just someone who would rather see New York's other team be competitive and interesting rather than lifeless and dull, you had to love that sequence Wednesday night with Jose Reyes proving to every copy editor who ever wanted to remove a "literally" that yes a person can be "literally hopping mad." (This Times photo captures the moment beautifully.)
I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that the Reyes sequence -- and the unlikely come-from-behind victory it was given credit for sparking -- will be seen as one of the key moments in the entire season for the Mets. Yes, Reyes went a "little crazy," as he put it himself, and that was a great thing to see.
Reyes is in a contract year and yes, he has every reason to step it up a notch for himself this season for that reason alone -- and if you've covered baseball as a newspaper beat writer, as I did four seasons for the San Francisco Chronicle, you are used to the "contract-year effect." But to me the Reyes' explosion of anger at third did not look like anything other than him wanting to win and having competitive fire for the game. His teammates obviously saw it that way or they would not have reacted how they did.
Same for the Times' excellent Mets beat writer, David Waldstein, who emphasized what he called Reyes' "stunning tirade" in his game story and who quoted the team's beleaguered manager way up high in his story with seeing the Reyes' explosion as huge: "'This so far is the biggest win of the year,' said Manager Terry Collins, who credited Reyes for igniting the team. 'I don't think there's any doubt about it.'"
I have been a fan of Reyes since his rookie year with the Mets in 2003 when he made an immediate impression with the emotion he brought to the game. When it went well for Reyes, he made it look like smashing triples or stealing bases was both the easiest and most fun thing in the world. The worry came in how he handled adversity: He always seemed bewildered, confused, like a kid who can't figure out why the TV channel has been changed in the middle of his favorite cartoon.
Just the other day I was watching Reyes and thinking: He looks too damn happy out there. The Mets were still at that point way south of .500. It's a safe bet that new Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, a former Marine, has had a similar reaction to Reyes at times. One of Alderson's main tasks this summer is deciding whether he thinks Reyes has it, whether he can be a winner, or whether he's a talented enigma who will always remain an enigma.
Here is what Alderson said of Reyes, before Wednesday night's game, as reported by Dan Martin in the New York Post: "The only real surprise, for me, is the sense of sheer joy he has in playing the game. You don't see (that) in a lot of players (and it) certainly doesn't come through to the fans in a lot of players. That's made an impression."
Alderson had talked Reyes up before the game as a catalyst -- and here he was, catalyzing like mad.
There has been a certain amount of speculation that Alderson would see Reyes as not his kind of player, based on things like on-base percentage. What those analyses -- and statistics in general -- leave out is the importance Alderson places on character, on team and on passion.
Those of us who knew Alderson out in California during his days as general manger and president of the Oakland A's know that above all else, he wants players who care, and care passionately about winning. His idea of a nightmare was seeing talented-but-happy-go-lucky Ruben Sierra show up at the ballpark with a matching plum suit and top hat and then play like he was thinking about his dinner plans. I'm not saying Sierra did that a lot, but: I believe it happened. And Sierra never had an outburst like Reyes' on Wednesday night. (I will note, though, that I think in his later phase in pinstripes, playing for the Yankees, Sierra approached every game with the attitude of a champion and wanting to get everything out of himself that he could every chance he had.)
The point is: Reyes picked a good moment to go nuts. The ump had clearly blown the call. He had every right to be outraged. And so he had his Peter Finch moment: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more."
The Mets gained in two ways: If they can play with fire and intensity this year, even during a rebuilding season that will try the patience of fans, the ups and downs will be a whole lot easier to take; and second, Reyes might not only have shown Alderson something on Wednesday night, he might have shown himself something, too.