Delgado making first October journey a memorable one

With Carlos Delgado leading the charge, the Mets' offense exploded in Game 4 to even the NLCS at two games apiece.

Originally Published: October 15, 2006
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

ST. LOUIS -- He's had more 30-homer seasons than Mickey Mantle, more 100-RBI seasons than Reggie Jackson, and more seasons with both 30 and 100 than Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio.

But until this year, when he was allowed to escape baseball's witness protection program, was there a more top-secret superstar in any sport than Carlos Delgado?

Go ahead. Try to think of one. We dare you.

Carlos Delgado
Jimmy DeFlippo/US PRESSWIRECarlos Delgado, right, hit a three-run homer in the fifth and a two-run double in the sixth in the Mets' win in Game 4.
Heck, Miguel Cairo might have had a higher profile than Delgado before this year. Joe McEwing might have had a higher profile. Aaron Boone was Michael Jordan compared to Delgado.

Then again, 12 seasons in Canada can do that to a guy.

"You can kind of get lost up there," said Delgado's friend, Mets teammate and fellow North Country escapee Shawn Green. "But he's been found now -- definitely."

Yes, Carlos Delgado has been located, all right, playing in an actual baseball postseason -- the first of his lifetime. Looks like he's getting the hang of it.

He waited 1,711 regular-season games to get to the October big stage, more than any active player. But apparently, October is his kind of month.

In the first seven postseason games of his career, Delgado is batting .414 with four homers, 11 RBI, seven extra-base hits and a .931 slugging percentage. And Sunday night, in a moment-of-truth baseball game for his team, he kept rising to meet every moment, homering, doubling and knocking in five runs in the Mets' 12-5 Game 4 pounding of the Cardinals.

"I played 12½ years and never sniffed the playoffs," Delgado said. "This is what every athlete wants to be in: the playoffs, with an opportunity to win."

Ah, but opportunity only pounds on any team's door so many times. And if the Mets hadn't pounced on the opportunity they were handed by the Cardinals' suddenly shaky bullpen, they knew they were in serious danger of spending the next five months in the hot oil of the New York tabloid/talk-show deep fryer.

"I don't know that this was a must-win game," Green said. "But it was about as close to it as you can get."

So when Delgado stalked toward the plate in the fifth inning of this game, the Mets' magical season was in as dire a state as it has been at any point since Valentine's Day.

It was scary enough for these guys that they were trailing this NLCS two games to one, and checking all occupied subway platforms for starting pitchers to get them through another day.

But their vaunted offense, the official Best Lineup Still Playing, had scored in just one of its past 16 innings, hadn't gotten a hit with a runner in scoring position in 20 innings and hadn't scraped together a hit leading off an inning since the second frame of Game 2.

So there's a word to describe the feeling rippling through that Mets dugout after Delgado mashed a game-turning three-run homer in that at-bat, then tacked on a two-run double an inning later in a six-run, see-ya-tomorrow eruption. And that word would be …

"Relief," Tom Glavine said, in that eloquent way of his. "It was a relief to see this offense go out and do what it's been doing all year long."

Like the Iron Chef, this is an offense that can carve you up 1,000 different ways. With flashing feet and top-to-bottom power. With patience and with brains. With the brightest faces of the 21st century (Jose Reyes and David Wright) and the ageless face of the dead-ball era (Julio Franco).

But while Reyes and Wright and Carlos Beltran dominated the MVP conversations all summer, it has been Delgado who has dominated the Mr. October conversations of the last two weeks.

He kicked off his first postseason with hits in each of his first four at-bats. And he has been wreaking massive havoc ever since.

Bet you didn't know Delgado already has mashed as many postseason homers as a Met as Darryl Strawberry.

Bet you didn't know he needs just one more RBI to say he has driven in as many postseason runs as a Met as Keith Hernandez or Mike Piazza.

Bet you didn't know he now owns the highest career postseason average of any Met who has ever accumulated 20 October at-bats or more.

Well, it's all true. And there's no telling what gear he might kick it into once he gets over those October jitters, huh?

"You never know how somebody is going to do in this setting until they get there," said Glavine, a man passing through his 12th Octoberfest. "I mean, we've all seen it, with great players who get in the postseason and struggle in their first go-round. So there's always that concern. It's their chance to shine, and everybody wants to do well, and some guys handle it better than others.

"But I'm not surprised Carlos is doing so well, with his personality. He's not really bothered by a whole lot. … He has a presence about himself as an individual, and I think that shows itself on the field as a player. He's the kind of guy you can't help but notice because of his stature. You obviously notice what he does statistically. But you also notice he's got that smile on his face, usually, when he's out there playing, and has a good time. He's just the kind of guy who exudes confidence in what he brings on the field."

He has been doing this sort of thing since 1994. Steadily. Relentlessly. Just nobody seemed to notice before, because that team he spent most of those years doing it for (the Blue Jays) hasn't played any games this time of year since Joe Carter finished rounding the bases in 1993.

So the next thing Delgado knew, the years and the games had piled on top of each other for so long that Delgado's critics were starting to hint that all those postseasons he hadn't played in were some kind of reflection on him.

But nobody takes more offense at those suggestions than Green, a guy who came through the minors with Delgado, played six seasons in Toronto with him and waived a no-trade clause this summer just to play with him again.

"For him to have the career he's had and never have the opportunity to play in the postseason, that would have been a shame," Green said. "I'm glad he's gotten that opportunity. And obviously, he's taking advantage of it."

"He's impressive, man. He's not overwhelmed by any of this. Any guy who waits that long to get to the playoffs and then does what he's doing, that's amazing. It's not just fun to watch. It's fun to count on."
-- Billy Wagner on teammate Carlos Delgado

But to listen to Delgado's teammates talk about him, you quickly get the impression they're not sure this whole season would have been quite the same magic-carpet ride without him. And they're not even talking about his 38 homers or 114 RBI.

They're talking about his unique charisma, a force that has helped glue together one of the tightest clubhouses in baseball.

"He's always been a big presence in the clubhouse, even as a young player," Green said. "He's one of those guys who has always seemed to bring teammates together from all different ethnic backgrounds. He's close friends with the American players. He's close friends with the Latin players. And this is a team with players from all over the world. It's Carlos who's kind of the big link who holds this team together."

Oh, and those 11 postseason RBI? They'll take that, too.

"He's impressive, man," Billy Wagner said. "He's not overwhelmed by any of this. Any guy who waits that long to get to the playoffs and then does what he's doing, that's amazing. It's not just fun to watch. It's fun to count on."

Considering that this team is trying to win the World Series with only one remaining starting pitcher it can count on (Glavine), it needs all the known quantities it can find. So what better place to start than a guy who has run off more consecutive 30-homer, 90-RBI seasons (10) than any player in history except Jimmie Foxx (12)?

"He's accustomed to doing this," said his manager, Willie Randolph. "He's been doing it a long time. He's just a great all-around hitter, and I'm just glad to see -- and I said this before -- that the world or the country is seeing him on a stage like this, showing what a great, great hitter he is."

With nine RBI in this LCS, Delgado has already tied Gary Carter's franchise record for most RBI in any postseason series. (Carter's nine RBI came in the '86 World Series).

And with three more RBI, he'll equal the number Beltran amassed in his first postseason series, two years ago with Houston. The all-time record for an October first-timer, if you're interested, is held by (who else?) Scott Spiezio, with 19 (in 2002).

We can't tell you yet if Delgado can climb all the way to the peak of Mount Spiezio, and beyond. But his chances sure improved dramatically Sunday, because if the Mets had lost and tumbled into a three-games-to-one canyon, there might not have been many RBI opportunities left.

Now, though, they're even again. They have Glavine going in Game 5, for the 32nd time in his career, against a pitcher who has never done that (Jeff Weaver). And they know that, at the very least, if the Cardinals are going to win the series, they'll have to do it back at Shea Stadium.

So what happened Sunday night may well have been this Mets team's defining, save-the-season moment. It's just that we won't know that for sure for another two weeks. But we do know their evening turned on one more picturesque wave of the bat by Carlos Delgado.

One minute, he was about as recognizable an October face as Ryan Langerhans or Carlos Silva. The next minute, he has turned into a guy who, in the words of Glavine, has been "everything you'd want your cleanup hitter to be in the postseason."

In other words, anything but top secret.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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