Delgado still fueling Beltran, Mets

During the playoffs, the post-game interview room usually features solo appearances by key players of the game -- the better to give the spotlight-loving stars their place on the media stage.

But for those who've followed them throughout the season, it was no surprise to see Carlos Delgado stride in right behind Carlos Beltran for a joint press conference after the two sluggers had combined for five hits, three homers and seven RBIs in the Mets' 12-5 drubbing of the Cardinals in Game Four of the NLCS.

After all, first baseman Delgado has had his teammate's back all year -- in the lineup, where his powerful presence in the clean-up spot has kept opponents from pitching around the Mets' third-place hitter, and in the clubhouse, too.

Delgado's calming influence has helped Beltran emerge from underneath the real and imagined pressures of his big, expensive contract -- and in the process to start to truly enjoy himself as a superstar in New York City.

In many ways they're a study in contrasts, these two Puerto Rican natives who've found fame and fortune bashing baseballs for a living.

Beltran arrived in New York last year about as highly touted as a free agent could be after his Ruthian playoff performance for the 2004 Astros (a .438 BA with 8 HR and 14 RBI in 12 games.)

But his relatively meager numbers last year (16 HR, 78 RBI and a .266 BA) seemed more a reflection of a Baby Ruth than a Babe, and his apparent thin skin in the face of criticism from ever-demanding New York fans made him seem more like a Sultan of Sulk than of Swat.

Enter Delgado, who joined the Mets last winter in a trade after a decade as one of the game's most consistent power hitters (since becoming a regular in '96, he'd averaged 36 homers and 114 RBI) -- and who, perhaps even more significantly, knew how to handle himself in the public eye.

This was the same Carlos Delgado who got slammed in the media for seeming anti-New York when he turned down a free agent offer from the Mets in '05. And the same Delgado who was hammered for seeming anti-American when he was outed for his Iraqi War-protesting refusal to stand at attention during "God Bless America."

In both cases, Delgado stood his ground and defended himself, firmly yet also gently, as he revealed himself to be a proud, thoughtful person looking not to make waves, but to be true to himself, especially as related to matters of heritage and politics.

He ultimately survived the controversies the best way possible, via honesty and sincerity -- two qualities that New Yorkers of all stripes value rather highly.

That none of these extracuuricular distractions affected Delgado's performance on the field once he donned a Mets uniform could not have helped but make an impression on his friend Beltran.

And the centerfielder's responded not only with better numbers, but also a noticeably better attitude as well. (For that, let's not forget the added role of elder statesman Julio Franco, who pushed Beltran out for that important early season curtain call.)

"As long as we score one more than them, I don't care how the victories come," Delgado said after Game Four when asked about his mounting power numbers in this post-season, which may soon set a Mets team record.

"As long as we're shaking hands at the end of the game, I'm happy."

And so will Beltran, who's certainly been a happier camper with Mr. Delgado behind him, and not just in the batting order, either.

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