Valuable Chavez's role takes on importance

NEW YORK – Look past the big bats of the twin Carloses, Beltran and Delgado, beyond the youth of Jose Reyes and David Wright, and over the veteran arm of postseason ace Tom Glavine.

Those players have all been key contributors to the Mets this season, make no mistake about it. But when you're talking about Most Valuable Mets, Willie Randolph cautions, you also must consider the team's bony 165-pound reserve outfielder, Endy Chavez.

"To me, he's one of the true MVPs of this ballclub," Randolph said. "You're always comfortable putting him in the lineup. He's always ready to play and he's done an outstanding job for us."

The 28-year-old Chavez has been filling in capably all season long, lessening the impact whenever Beltran, Cliff Floyd or others need to "take a blow" -- Randolph-ese for a day off.

Rebounding from a miserable 2005 with the Nationals and Phillies, Chavez hit .306 in 133 games for the Mets this season, lighting up the team's chances with his energy, speed and bright smile.

Now, it's the National League Championship Series, and Floyd's aching left Achilles needs more than just a blow. With the slugger sidelined for most of the rest of the postseason, Chavez's role takes on added importance.

"I feel comfortable playing, and I'm focused on the things I need to do," Chavez said. "They know how I play defense and they trust me and the things I do over there."

Chavez's defense was on display in Game 1 against St. Louis on Thursday. In the fifth inning, filling in for Floyd – who left after just two innings with his recurring injury – Chavez ranged into the left-center field gap and snared a Ronnie Belliard drive, killing one of the final chances the Cardinals would put up against starter Tom Glavine.

But getting love for glove is nothing new for Chavez, a natural centerfielder who was forced to the corners as a Kansas City rookie in 2001 by a player named Carlos Beltran.

"I definitely think it's the best thing I can do," Chavez said. "Defense, for me, is a big part. Hitting, you never know, but you always need somebody to catch the ball."

With stakes at their highest, Chavez is a welcome sight indeed for Mets pitchers.

"As far as Endy is concerned, he's been unbelievable all year long," Glavine said. "He's certainly been one of, if not our unsung hero all year long. It just seems like every time that guy gets in the game, he's doing something to help us win, whether it's a big hit or a big play defensively."

For the remainder of the Mets' postseason, it seems Chavez will continue to get those chances. The Mets' outfield for Game 2 consisted of Chavez, Beltran and Shawn Green from left to right, with Floyd largely considered a pinch-hitter for the rest of the series.

Michael Tucker and Chris Woodward are the other possible outfielders on the roster, but Randolph has been reluctant to use either.

Then again, why mess with what's working? The Mets have their fingers crossed that Chavez can bring home a few more "happy Endys."

"There's not enough superlatives to go around for the young man," Randolph said. "He's been tremendous for us all year."

Contact Inside Pitch's Bryan Hoch at metsinsidepitch@aol.com.


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