Reyes bliss is not to be missed

NEW YORK -- Jose Reyes was so full of life, so high on the all-natural rush that is a baseball game under a cloudless June sky, that he even struck a look-at-me pose on a humiliating whiff.

Phil Hughes fooled him on a 77 mph curveball with two outs and a man on in the fifth, and Reyes dropped to his left knee, completed an exaggerated follow-through and peered into the distance as if he were Reggie Jackson admiring his epic World Series homer that landed in the center-field black.

Even in defeat, a rare development for these new and improved Mets, Reyes wasn't about to let anyone or anything temper his enthusiasm for the game. This was the good news on the wrong side of Yankees 5, Mets 3.

Reyes is his team's most important player, the singular offensive force that can drive the Mets to the playoffs. So when the leadoff man needed to see only five pitches from one of baseball's best starters to deliver two homers and three runs over the first three innings, Reyes painted a portrait of postseason hope.

"I didn't do anything because we lost the game," he argued.

In fact, Reyes extended his hitting streak to 11 games, elevated his batting average during the streak to .438 and, of greater consequence, proved to himself and millions of emotionally scarred Mets fans that he's finally whole again after enduring his hamstring injury from hell.

"Now I've got everything back," Reyes said.

Especially his boyish enthusiasm. Even though Hughes and the Yanks ended an eight-game winning streak, there was joy in Metville on Saturday when Reyes' body language announced to the world that he was honoring the Little League mission statement and having a ton of fun.

Reyes bounded around the bases each time after he crushed a pair of Hughes fastballs into the right-field seats, his arms pumping, his head bobbing, his braids flapping against the back of his neck. If it looked a little like styling, or whatever the hardened tobacco chewers call it, Reyes didn't care.

"I don't do it because I want to show up the other team," Reyes said. "I do it for my team."

He shouldn't sweat it. Baseball needs more men acting like boys.

"I'm like that all the time," Reyes said. "That's me. That's what brings me here -- the energy that I have -- to the big leagues. I can't change that because that's part of my game."

He shouldn't change that. Way back when, Junior Griffey built his mass appeal around that same Williamsport bounce in his step.

People were drawn to Griffey's immense talent, yes. But much more than that, no matter how disagreeable Griffey could be inside his clubhouse walls, people were drawn to the generosity of spirit Griffey expressed on the ball field.

The Mets' 27-year-old shortstop has the same gift, and he should continue to keep giving it.

"Everybody likes to see me like that, with a lot of energy," Reyes said, "because when you see me down, you're going to say, 'What's going on with Jose Reyes?'"

There's absolutely nothing wrong with Jose Reyes right now, the best available reason to believe the Mets will ignore this result and get back to winning baseball in the immediate future -- as in Sunday.

Reyes has turned his .211 batting average on May 21 into a .276 batting average on June 19. He no longer has to worry about his legs giving out on the bases.

He no longer has to worry about his manager asking him to bat third.

"I'm way more comfortable [batting leadoff], not even close," Reyes said. "I feel like I'm home now. … I don't even want to think about [batting third]. I'm back home. Everybody knows I'm a leadoff guy."

A leadoff guy who missed 126 games last year while his team came undone. Reyes agreed he was living a nightmare, day after day after day, defeat after defeat after defeat.

He watched the games on TV and hated every millisecond of it. As it turned out, the 2009 Mets missed him more than they missed anyone else in their mile-high pile of twisted ligaments and broken bones.

The numbers tell you why. The Mets are 26-7 this year when Reyes scores a run. In the shortstop's career, they are 130-33 when he scores a run and drives in a run.

Reyes scored two and drove in three Saturday, advancing his run of good fortune in the Bronx. He needed two Hughes pitches to make it 1-0 in the first, and he ripped a 1-1 pitch to make it a 3-1 game in the third. Reyes even made the Mets' finest defensive play in closing out the sixth, saving a run by charging Kevin Russo's short hopper and scooping it with his glove hand on the fly.

None of it was enough. The Met who feels most comfortable playing against the Yanks ended up in the losing clubhouse for the first time in a while. Reyes had no problem smiling at his locker, anyway.

"I love this game," he said, "and now I'm able to do everything I was doing before."

Reyes is healthy, happy, and playing baseball for a contender on perfect Boys of Summer afternoons. So the Mets rediscovered this one winning ingredient in defeat:

A leadoff hitter who leads the league in hope.

Ian O'Connor is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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