PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The hangover persists. And now that the public eye again can focus on Carlos Beltran, it may get worse. No "hair of the dog" exists for this one. Only time or a big hit in another Game 7 will remove the stain that -- rightfully or not -- has been affixed to Beltran's reputation.

Seldom has a player been so put upon for something he didn't do. But New York loves to point the finger -- even at its own. As much as it would have embraced the Mets' involvement in the World Series, it doesn't forget -- or, apparently, forgive -- the final play of the game that denied them.

The bat remained on Beltran's shoulder as the final pitch of the NLCS, a masterful back-door curve from Cardinals reliever Adam Wainwright, passed over the outer half of the plate. Now it is that caught-looking that rests on his shoulders and prompts him to point out, "I struck out 100 times before that."

Beltran doesn't appear to be nearly so consumed by it as those who witnessed it, described it and/or lamented it. His transgression -- if it was one at all -- hardly was the magnitude of Bill Buckner's error, Dave Winfield's 1-for-22 World Series, Gil Hodges' hitless World Series or Mo Rivera's errant throw to second base against the Diamondbacks. But is has legs ... no question.

Some unforgiving finger-pointer obscured by the mesh covering on the parking lot fence here shouted "Swing!" at Beltran when the center fielder's head popped out of the clubhouse on Monday afternoon. The same taunter was seeking players' autographs, and he probably would have declined Beltran's.

It was Beltran's first day at the office since Cardinals 3, Mets 1, the first day the questions he had to answer came from a source other than his sense of self. He had learned to forget 2005 before he created a brilliant 2006 -- 127 runs, 116 RBIs and 41 home runs. Now amnesia can be an asset again.

"You have to prove yourself every year," he said.

There was no greeting when he arrived in the dugout to face cross-examination 123 days after he did nothing. The first words he heard were "You knew this was coming ..."

His first words were: "Last year we did a great job as a team. Me being the last out for the series was not the best [representation] of it. But I did the best I could.

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"After that night, I left everything in the past. ... It's going to happen. You don't want it to happen in a situation like that [bases loaded, two out, down by two runs]. But it happened."

Later he added: "I tip my hat to [Wainwright]. The last pitch was a pitch that ... if, this year, I'm feeling good at the plate, I don't know if I could hit it. That's how nasty that pitch was. Outside corner. I saw it. I couldn't do anything with it."

His teammates exonerated him then and again Monday. David Wright pointed out Wainwright had struggled with his command of the curve until Beltran's at-bat. Tom Glavine said "That's not the reason we lost."

And we all know about Guillermo Mota's ill-conceived fastball to Scott Spiezio in Game 2 and the inability to follow Endy Chavez's brilliant catch in the sixth inning of Game 7 with a run in the bottom of the inning.

Still, the hangover persists.