Commentary

Shortstop stands tall in the Bronx

No, not Jeter; Reyes shows Mets why losing him may be more costly than keeping him

Updated: May 21, 2011, 2:36 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- A shortstop embodied the difference between the New York Yankees and New York Mets on Friday, and for once he was not No. 2 in your program and No. 1 in your pinstriped heart.

Derek Jeter watched Jose Reyes, lucky No. 7, make the defining play of the opening Subway Series game, the diving stop on Alex Rodriguez that probably earned the pending free agent a few million bucks and definitely left him protecting his options like any wise entrepreneur would.

"I want to stay here because this is the only team I've played with my entire career," Reyes told ESPNNewYork.com. "But I also understand that it's a business. I don't know what's going to happen, and the only thing I can control is to continue to play good and to stay healthy."

[+] EnlargeJose Reyes
Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesJose Reyes made the game's biggest play with his glove on a night when his bat was silent.

Yes, Reyes has his legs right and his priorities straight.

He was asked about finishing his career as a Met the way Jeter will finish his career as a Yank.

"No doubt as a baseball player you want to play for one organization all of your career," he said in a quiet corner of the visitors' locker room in the Bronx, the winners' locker room. "But sometimes this is a business. I'm going to continue to play my game and let whatever happens happen."

On Friday night, as he stood outside Joe Girardi's consolation news conference and waited to make his victory speech, Terry Collins was in no mood to talk about the possibility of an entire season with Reyes at short. His eyes blinking at warp speed, the orgasmic rush of winning rising from his toes, Collins went on and on about Reyes and the play he made to end the fifth, the kind of difference-maker the former Angels manager had seen too many times from the aging icon on the other side.

"I've watched that guy all these years," Collins said of Jeter, "and so many balls I thought were going through for us he would field and make that jump throw and get you. We'd come in here, and Jeter would make a big play night after night after night."

Only, under these Friday night lights, the soon-to-be-37-year-old Jeter didn't make the big play. The soon-to-be-28-year-old Reyes, Collins' shortstop, would dive to his left for A-Rod's hard grounder with two Yanks on, lift himself from the dirt in a flash and fire to first to make up for the throwing error that gave life to the threat in the first place.

The score was tied at 1 at the time. If the A-Rod ball had gone through, the Yankees would have had the lead, the momentum and the ability to notarize the Mets' inferiority complex.

"It was huge," Collins said. "Any time you make a big play up the middle like that, it lifts up your team. Jose's been remarkable. Now that I'm around him, his love for the game and his nightly energy level -- I'm shocked by it.

"Jose hasn't had his health for two years, and sometimes when you go that long being banged up, you worry that your best days are over. Now Jose's relieved. He knows he's still a star."

A star who sent a jolt of electricity through the third-base dugout. Two Freddy Garcia pitches later, Daniel Murphy belted the winning home run. Murphy acknowledged that Reyes' play "definitely lifted our spirits" but suggested his homer in its immediate wake was a matter of mere coincidence. Whatever.

"Jose made a fantastic play," Murphy said. "I don't know how many guys in baseball can make that play."

Funny how things work out. Jeter was always the signature star in these intramural battles, whether they were staged in the spring or the fall.

He was the MVP of the 2000 World Series, of course, gunning down Timo Perez with that Game 1 throw and crushing the Mets' spirit with that Game 4 homer on Bobby Jones' first pitch.

Jeter batted .409 in that World Series. Entering Friday night, Jeter had hit .380 with 13 homers, 41 RBIs and a .434 on-base percentage in 75 regular-season games against the Mets.

The Yankees captain did manage his 2,971st career hit in Game No. 76, a grounder in the hole. But the hitless Reyes made the ultimate Jeter play, the winning play, with a dazzling show of youth and athleticism and good timing that elevated a depleted team and a dugout full of Buffalo Bison.

"That was a big play right there," Reyes said. "I was just trying to keep it in the infield, and I was lucky to find it in my glove."

Luck had very little to do with it.

"I got to the ball quickly," Reyes said, "and I got up even faster. When I saw [Rodriguez] running, I said to myself, 'If I make a good throw, I've got a shot.'"

A-Rod was out by a step, and soon enough the Mets were an honest-to-God .500 team. R.A. Dickey's knuckler finally danced to the right tune, Jason Isringhausen and Francisco Rodriguez were dynamite out of the 'pen, and Justin Turner, former Yankees draft pick, kept hitting 'em where they weren't.

But the Mets still lose if Reyes doesn't honor his staggering talent on the ball off A-Rod's bat. "I don't like to make a mistake," Reyes said of his earlier throwing error. "I had to make a play for Dickey, no matter how."

At long last, Jeter wasn't the best shortstop on the field with the Mets in the house. Reyes said he wants to be a one-uniform lifer, just like the Yankees captain, and on Friday night he made another business presentation to his bosses, the Wilpons, men who have bigger problems right now than Reyes' exploding value.

Can the Mets' owners afford to pay the man a nine-figure sum to stay? Here's a better question:

Can they afford not to?

Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter."

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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