You 'Gado Believe

Last year Carlos Delgado carried a grudge against the Mets; this October he's carried their offense
October 22, 2006

IF YOU laid CarlosDelgado's four postseason home runs end to end, they would stretch 1,647 feet,the distance from the best moo shu pork in Chinatown to a really good cannoliin Little Italy, from Columbus Circle to Carnegie Hall. Now Delgado might notknow the BMT subway line from his OBP, but in his first baseball October thefirst-year Met has become a genuine New Yorker, whether he chooses to fold hispizza slice or not. On Sunday in St. Louis he hit a home run and had five RBIsas the Mets took the Cardinals' bullpen and stripped it like some abandoned caron the shoulder of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The 12--5 trashing in apivotal Game 4 tied the series and swung the NLCS momentum back to New York inthis postseason's most competitive series.

Delgado's threehomers in the first four games against St. Louis all soared over leftfield, butthen the lefthanded-hitting first baseman always has gone the opposite way. In2004 Delgado, then with the Toronto Blue Jays, refused to stand during theseventh-inning playing of God Bless America in major league parks because heobjected to the link between the song, the war in Iraq and baseball--aprincipled position that drew especially loud jeers in New York, where 9/11wounds remain fresh. When ace Pedro Martinez and centerfielder Carlos Beltranwere lured to the Mets in that flush free-agent winter of '04--05, Delgadospurned New York and signed with what he believed was a stronger Marlins team,criticizing Mets general manager Omar Minaya for what Delgado thought was aneffort to leverage his Latin ethnicity during the recruiting process.

Here was a man whostood for something. Just not God Bless America.

The Mets certainlydidn't get him for a song in a trade last November--they inherited the finalthree years of the four-year, $52 million contract he had signed withFlorida--but controversy fizzled upon his arrival. If it was Mets policy tostand when honoring America, he announced, he would stand. And even before hisnine RBIs and six extra-base hits through the first four NLCS games, Delgadostood out on a star-studded roster. Says lefthanded ace Tom Glavine, "Iknew he was a great hitter, but I didn't know what else he brought to thetable. He has a presence. He forces you to notice him."

"When he wasin Toronto and I managed against him, I thought this was a guy happy being anicon, so to speak, but [not interested in being] a champion," says Metsbench coach Jerry Manuel, the former skipper of the Chicago White Sox. "ButI didn't know him. The key [in New York] is he fell under the umbrella of theteam. If he had fallen under the umbrella of 'I'm going to hit my 40 [homers]and drive in my 100 regardless of what the team does,' he'd have been in for arude awakening. You see some guys when they first come here, they goindividual. They try to get identified, try to justify their being here. That'sa dangerous thing. Not to get on Carlos Beltran, but he spent his first yearhere [in 2005] trying to prove 'I am what you hyped me to be.' He was helped byDelgado this year."

Delgado is thestraw that stirs the drink, not in a me-first, Reggie Jackson way but in hisability to blend the diverse elements and personalities of the clubhouse."He's always been close friends with the American players, close friendswith the Latin players," says outfielder Shawn Green, a close friend ofDelgado's from their days together in Toronto. "Especially with this teamthere's a wide range of players from all over the world. And Delgado's the biglink that holds [them] together."

Despite a smilebright enough to light up all five boroughs and flashy stats--he hit 38 homersto surpass 400 for his career while driving in 114 runs in 2006--Delgado, whowas born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, remains relatively anonymous, at least onthe scale of such sluggers as David Ortiz and Albert Pujols. As Tony Bernazard,the Mets' special assistant to the G.M., noted, Delgado is renowned in Canadaand Latin America; there just happens to be this big hole in the middle."The reason is, he's never had this playoff stage," Bernazard says ofthe 34-year-old first baseman, who played 1,711 regular-season games beforereaching the postseason, the longest stretch among active players. "Now'shis time."

"New York'sbeen good," says Delgado. "This is a weird town. Very demanding. Andvery knowledgeable about the game. You do good, they let you know it. You dobad, they let you know it too."

Right now in NewYork, however, the motto is: In Delgado we trust.

PHOTODAMIAN STROHMEYERBEEN A BLAST Delgado has brought big numbers and charisma.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)