Posted Sunday, July 27, 2008
For Mets fans, the photograph of Reyes circling the bases -- arm above his head, index finger extended -- after hitting an eighth-inning, tie-breaking three-run home run on Wednesday is as iconic as the image of the American flag on the moon, Rosie the Riveter, and Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston. The Mets won the game 6-3 and eventually won the three-game series -- their ninth win over the Phillies in 13 games.
There were plenty of images from the series, but the most controversial events were the Mets' celebrations, particularly Reyes'. Teammate David Wright also vied for an Oscar with his celebration with Robinson Cancel at home plate after Carlos Delgado broke a 1-1 tie in the eighth inning on Thursday. On the other side, Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino celebrated a couple times, both in the ninth-inning of Tuesday's game where the Phillies scored six runs against the New York bullpen to overcome a 5-2 deficit.
With the bases loaded and Victorino on first base, Carlos Ruiz hit a slow grounder up the middle. Reyes fielded it and instead of taking the sure out at first base, he opted to attempt a double play or at least get one of the lead runners to keep a double play in tact. He ran towards second base but was beat to the bag by Victorino, who stood up and emphatically motioned and yelled that he was safe. The second base umpire was in agreement, and Victorino aggressively clapped his hands.
The second incident occurred when Victorino easily scored on a two-run double from So Taguchi. Victorino was the tying run, so he stood at home plate and stared into the Mets' dugout, clapping his hands.
Another controversy arose before Thursday's 12:10 game as Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who opted to drive himself to Shea Stadium instead of taking the bus with the team, showed up late and was quickly removed from the starting lineup by manager Charlie Manuel. Eric Bruntlett took his place at shortstop and in the lead-off spot in the lineup, going 3-for-4 with two doubles, surprisingly enough. Rollins did get an at-bat as a pinch-hitter and as the tying run in the bottom of the ninth against Mets closer Billy Wagner with two outs and his team down 3-1. Rollins swung at the first pitch and feebly hit a game-ending grounder to third baseman Wright.
As expected, the series was entertaining, energizing, and controversial. It seems only Reyes has received criticism for his antics, though, and it is in direct contrast to Rollins, who hasn't received any criticism at all for his second incident this year where he wasn't exactly showing everyone why he deserved to win the MVP award last season.
While I personally don't care either way about the celebrations, you have to understand the position of Reyes' critics. Reyes has always celebrated like that and he's always done it with an air of pretentiousness akin to Rickey Henderson. Reyes acted like he just won the 1988 World Series a la Kirk Gibson, even though he simply broke a tie in a late-July game. This is the guy who disappeared in September last season, hitting only for a .612 OPS in that month as the Mets collapsed in quite an epic way. Reyes hasn't backed up all of the celebrations and dancing and handshakes that he does with his play on the field. He had a great 2006 season but he disappeared in that September, too, hitting for only a .796 OPS. He didn't perform well in the post-season, either, hitting for a .463 OPS in the NLDS against the Dodgers and a .772 OPS in the NLCS against the Cardinals.
Whether deserved or not, Reyes -- arguably the star of the Mets -- will be associated with failure and an inability to rise to the occasion when the lights shine their brightest. He simply has not earned the right to be as celebratory as he has been throughout his career. Also consider that when those around Reyes criticized him for his celebrations, Reyes retreated into a shell, duly noted by the media.
Contrast that to Jimmy Rollins, who made a bold statement prior to the start of the 2007 regular season, declaring the Phillies "the team to beat." He backed that up by winning the NL MVP (deserved or not), hitting for an .875 OPS in September and a .944 OPS in the NLDS against the Rockies. Rollins has earned the ire of manager Charlie Manuel twice this season by not running out what appeared to be a routine fly ball in a game against the Cardinals, and by showing up late to Thursday's 12:10 game with the Mets. Both times, however, Rollins owned up to his mistakes, credited Manuel's point of view, and moved on. He did not whine and he did not hide; he admitted fault with his chin up to the media. Rollins, unlike Reyes, has shown humility, something every baseball fan and member of the sports media can appreciate.
As for Wright's celebration, he simply does not have the reputation that Reyes has, and he's never been one to disappear in the bright lights. He hit for an OPS of 1.034 in September last season; .975 in September '06. Wright's celebration wasn't as pretentious as well. He was celebrating at home plate with his teammates; he did not celebrate for a couple minutes as he took his time strolling the bases (not that he could've, either). Reyes' celebration was as much a middle finger extended towards the Phillies' dugout as it was an extended high five or one of those complicated handshakes he's famous for with his teammates.
The whole "controversy," though, is manufactured because it gives the media something easy to write and talk about, and it intensifies the Phillies-Mets rivalry. In a perfect world, we'd all celebrate just the right amount so as not to offend our opponents and to share a good experience with our teammates.