Jose Reyes is stealing the spotlight
Mets shortstop is second in steals, first in triples
The cat-and-mouse game begins with a stare, maybe a glare, and eventually evolves into a dare.
The eternal confrontation between pitcher and baserunner is a baseball version of catch-me-if-you-can, and nobody enjoys it more than the Mets' Jose Reyes.
Reyes is the energizer at the top of the Mets lineup -- always ready to run, whether it's out of the batter's box or on the basepaths. It is what he is all about.
"It is a big part of my game," he said. "I put pressure on myself to run. I am always ready to run."
So what happens when Reyes gets on first base? Plenty.
"I read the pitcher," he said. "It's hard. You have to know their moves. You can't go like crazy. You've got to see what he's going to do."
Now the game is on with glare and stare exchanged between pitcher and runner. Reyes steps off the base, body crouched, right arm dangling between his legs, measuring his lead, studying the pitcher, looking for hints. The pitcher throws over once, maybe twice. Sometimes Reyes can step back to the base. Sometimes he must dive. All of it is a miniature drama conducted between two men, one determined to distract the other.
"Most pitchers in the big leagues, I know them and they know me," Reyes said. "They know what I'm up to."
That's because Reyes' speed has made him one of baseball's most efficient offensive players. He led the league in steals for three straight seasons and is closing in on 350 for his career. Leg injuries slowed him for a couple of seasons, but he's healthy now and running again.
It's not just steals either. Reyes is a triple waiting to happen. He led the Majors with six of them through the season's first five weeks. That stretch included the sixth two-triple game of his career and pushed his lifetime total to 89, fourth among active Major Leaguers behind only Carl Crawford (106), Johnny Damon (101) and Jimmy Rollins (99).
And as much as he thinks about steals, he thinks about triples.
"If I hit the ball in the gap, I look as I turn to first base," he said. "I see where it is and that's when I decide to go. When that happens, I am always thinking triple."
There would be another one this season except for a play at Washington when the umpire ruled Reyes had come off the base after his trademark head-first slide.
"He apologized to me later and said he blew the call," Reyes said. "It turned out all right because we won the game."
The slide, with hands and fingers extended, reaching for the base, is not the prescribed conventional method because it puts him at risk for an injury. But it is Reyes' style.
"I've done it that way all my life. I've never gotten hurt doing it. It's instinct."
Manager Terry Collins isn't about to try and change anything about his shortstop.
"He loves to play," Collins said. "He plays with passion and enthusiasm. He's an exciting player, the kind of player fans love to watch."
Through 34 games, Reyes led all Major League shortstops in hits (49), doubles (11), triples (6), extra-base hits (18) and stolen bases (12) and was second in ruins scored (21).
Why then are there trade rumors swirling around him? He is in the last year of his contract, and there is some question whether the Mets will be able to afford to re-sign him.
He shrugs off all the speculation.
"I am here now," he said. "I can't control anything else. I just play."
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.