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Already sharing a first name, a homeland, an unassigned locker between their designated ones and initial hesitation about becoming a Met, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado took their act on the road last week for a series against the Nationals. Each day the teammates shared a taxi from their hotel in Washington to RFK Stadium, and on their one free evening they shared a table for dinner. The bills they split. "I got the taxis," Delgado said last Friday. "He picked up the dinner. He makes more than me."
Beltran is in the second season of a seven-year, $119 million contract that he signed in January 2005 after first offering himself to the Yankees at a discount of about 20%. Delgado, acquired last winter in a trade, is owed $48 million through 2008, the remainder of a four-year deal he signed with the Marlins in January '05 after turning down a better offer from the Mets. Both preferred teams they felt had a better chance of winning immediately but are warming up to their new home.
Together the two natives of Puerto Rico pounded the Nationals for 11 hits, including three homers, and seven RBIs as New York swept three games. By taking two of three from Milwaukee at home over the weekend ( Delgado had a homer and five RBIs in the series, while Beltran was slowed by a tight right hamstring and missed Sunday's game), the Mets rolled to the best record in the majors, 9-2, which is also the best start in franchise history. At the heart of that early run and of New York's batting order are Beltran and Delgado, the three-four hitters who were batting a combined .321 and bringing out the best in each other.
"[ Delgado] is someone who is always there for me, someone I talk to all the time, and I don't mean just about baseball," says Beltran, a career .281 hitter who hit a soft .266 last season and often drew jeers from the Shea Stadium crowds. "In the lineup I know if I don't get the job done, if I don't get that runner in from third base, he will. That's a great feeling."
That's a big reason the Mets have played cohesively from the start of the season even though they have a new closer ( Billy Wagner replaced Braden Looper) and have turned over half their every-day positions: first base ( Delgado replaced Doug Mientkiewicz), second base ( Anderson Hernandez replaced Kaz Matsui), rightfield ( Xavier Nady replaced Mike Cameron) and catcher ( Paul Lo Duca replaced Mike Piazza). "It works because we are all equals," explains Beltran. "Nobody thinks they are any bigger than anybody else."
Delgado, though, plays a major role on the club because of his power--he has hit 30 or more home runs for nine years running--and his professionalism. He provides a calming influence that, in particular, makes life in the big city easier for Beltran. Says righthander Pedro Martinez, "It's amazing that someone that big and strong is so gentle and soft-spoken. Everybody respects him."
More important than his personality, Delgado helps give New York one of the league's deepest lineups. After ranking 11th in the NL last year in batting average, at .258, the Mets were second at week's end with a .298 mark. "As a pitcher on this team," says ace Tom Glavine, who was 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA after beating Milwaukee 4-3 last Friday, "you feel like you have a two- or three-run cushion before the game starts."
The Mets haven't finished higher than third since 2000, when they won the wild card and reached the World Series (losing to the Yankees), and they haven't taken a division title in a franchise-worst drought of 17 years. Particularly vexing, they have not won a season series from division-rival Atlanta since 1997, losing almost two thirds of their head-to-head matchups (49-83) in that span. Beginning April 17, New York was scheduled to play nine of its next 20 games against the Braves, which should better define just how new and improved these Mets are.