The real Jose Reyes is back, at last

NEW YORK -- It wasn't intentional. But it happened.

Many Mets fans forgot about Jose Reyes.

Maybe it was because of the disappointing Septembers that didn't result in postseasons. Maybe it was all the injuries that sidelined the All-Star shortstop for more time than most could have ever imagined.

Maybe it's just human nature -- out of sight, out of mind.

It's just not the case anymore. Reyes' return to the Mets, and to form, lately has reminded many how talented he is and what a huge impact he can have on getting this franchise turned around and back into contention in the National League East.

Sure, the pitching has been a lot better recently. But there's also no denying that Reyes has been a nice spark to the Mets' winning more than they are losing the past few days.

And that's why manager Jerry Manuel penciled Reyes into the third spot in the batting order against the Atlanta Braves on Friday night at Citi Field.

Under normal circumstances, this would be a bad move. Why move a real leadoff man -- with speed and all -- out of the first spot in the lineup? But the Mets' bats, coming into Friday, were dead (hitting .226 as a team), and even worse with runners in scoring position (.196).

"It's more of us not having done much offensively," Manuel said of the lineup change before the game. "And we're trying to find ways to create a better offensive machine."

Reyes, 26, is not fighting the move. He'd rather bat leadoff, but is willing to do anything to help his team win.

And that's what he has done recently. After the Mets' 5-2 victory over the Braves on Friday night, in which Reyes hit a triple and a double, the Mets are 4-1 so far on their 10-game homestand, and have won five of their last seven games overall. Reyes has batted .471 (8-for-17) in the team's past four games. "He's still a player," Manuel said. "And putting him in the third spot gives us a better chance."

"I'm just trying to help this team as much as I can -- no matter how," Reyes said. "If they put me [third] and leave me there, fine. I just want to be in the lineup."

Manuel said this is his move, it wasn't ordered from upstairs. He also believes, after many conversations with him, that Reyes is cool with it all.

"He feels this is the best for the team right now," Manuel said. "He's willing to give it a shot."

Reyes -- who has led the majors in triples three times and also led the National League in stolen bases in 2005, '06 and '07 -- isn't about to change his game at all now that he's hitting in front of slugger Jason Bay. "I'm going to be aggressive still," Reyes said. "It doesn't matter who hits behind me. I'm going to still play my game."

Those days, when he was a terror on the base paths, seem like such a long time ago. That's because Mets fans haven't equated Reyes to triples, steals and a spark plug of late, but rather an injury-plagued dude who can't stay healthy.

And with good reason.

Last May, Reyes was placed on the disabled list due to a calf injury. Most expected him back in June. But while rehabbing, Reyes learned from an MRI that he had a tear. The Mets thought about bringing him back last September, but he suffered another injury, a torn right hamstring.

Then in March, Reyes was diagnosed with a hyperactive thyroid gland. He had to stop his spring training altogether. He was placed on the 15-day DL and missed the start of the regular season.

"I don't think the fans in New York totally forgot about him," center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. said.

Matthews is thrilled that Reyes is back to being Reyes. Matthews believes it only can make the team better. "Think about the impact that he makes with his bat, with his glove, his running ability, with his arm," Matthews said. "He has a tremendous arm.

"And he has so much energy. I love watching him play. I like watching guys play with energy, enthusiasm. He has that ability to excite his teammates and make them better."

Not to mention the fans. Those good memories of Reyes had to start coming back after the week he's had.

Rob Parker is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com.