Today, in the bottom of the first at Citi Field, Jose Reyes successfully bunted for a hit and was immediately pulled for a pinch runner. The hit improved his batting average to .337 and forced Ryan Braun to go either 3-for-3, 3-for-4, 4-for-5, or better in tonight’s season finale against Pittsburgh. It’s most certainly possible — Jeff Locke of the Pirates failed to go five innings in his most recent start and is left-handed to boot. But even the hardest of line drives can be caught, and Braun’s odds are diminished.
Herm Edwards famously said “you play to win the game,” and Jose Reyes certainly did that here. But particularly with games with such little real meaning as a batting title (even in the context of “sports meaning”), honor tends to outweigh winning, particularly with the fans. Mets fans were angry because they didn’t get to see their star play in what could be his last game as a Met. Brewers fans (and general baseball fans) are angry because they feel short-changed of what could have been a fantastic battle for the title on the last day of the season. Reyes took the easy way out, and many take great exception to that.
A narrative of greed would be easy to present here. Reyes, a free agent to be, is set for a multimillion dollar contract. Almost certainly, a batting title would be a boon to his future earnings, possibly adding more multiple millions onto his next contract. This could have been on his mind, surely, but based on his post-game comments, I’m not sure that’s entirely fair. Here’s what Reyes said to ESPN New York’s Adam Rubin following the game:
“I said, ‘If I go 1-for-1, take me out of the game,'” Reyes told reporters. “And I did that. If I went 0-for-1, maybe I’m still in the game until I get a hit. … I wanted to stay in the game, but (Mets fans) have to understand, too, what’s going on. They have to feel happy about it if I win the batting title. I do that for the team, for the fans too, because they’ve been supporting me all the way through.”
The way he says “they have to feel happy about it” may seem like he’s saying Mets fans have an obligation to support him in his pursuit of the batting title, honor be damned, but I’m not sure we can make that distinction without hearing the tone of his voice or the context of the interview.
I think what Reyes is saying, instead, is that he very much wanted to give the Mets a batting title. The team has supported him, the fans have been behind him throughout his 1,049 game career, and he wanted to leave the gift of a batting title — something the Mets have never had — particularly with the possibility he’ll be in a different uniform next season looming.
Obviously, the move backfired on many fronts, but I don’t think Reyes’s intentions were necessarily negative. He simply thought ending 2011 with a batting title would be the proper way to reward Mets fans for their support, and his methods Wednesday were the best way to go about it.
As a Brewers fan, I am very much rooting for Ryan Braun to win the batting title. But even in the somewhat silly context of baseball, what does a batting title mean? It’s a bit of trivia, a piece to bring up when you’re in an argument with the uptight Cardinals fan in the bar or the drunk Cubs fans at next year’s games. But we already know that Ryan Braun is a great hitter and will be one of the league’s greatest on a yearly basis, and we don’t need a batting title to tell us that. And for these reasons, I simply can’t find it in me to build any sort of anger at Reyes for his actions.