NEW YORK -- The final tally was three games without Carlos Beltran, a dozen minus Jose Reyes. An eternity, in other words, for the Mets and their manager.
The Mets missed the type of production that Beltran showcased in Monday's 4-2 victory over the Cardinals, doubling twice, reaching base five times and scoring a run. They certainly missed the fluorescence of Reyes, who recorded his 44th multihit game in his return from the disabled list.
Most of all, they missed winning ballgames.
"It's quite obvious what it means," manager Terry Collins said of the returns of his shortstop and right fielder. "That electricity just lifts the club."
Playing the past 12 games without Reyes due to a strained left hamstring, and the past three without Beltran due to illness, the Mets struggled to perform with any sort of consistency. They placed hitters in uncomfortable lineup spots, endured stunted rallies and dropped ever further out of playoff contention.
All the while, they looked forward to the day when their missing players might return.
That day arrived Tuesday with all the subtlety of a freight train. If there was any doubt as to how much Reyes means to the Mets, he proved it most dynamically with his glove in the eighth. After Bobby Parnell allowed the first two batters of the inning to reach base, Reyes made a diving stop of Jon Jay's infield single with one out, likely preventing a run from scoring. Four pitches later, Reyes turned a nifty inning-ending double play on Albert Pujols' ground ball up the middle, preserving a two-run lead.
"Without him back there, it could have been a different game," Parnell said.
"The two weeks that I was off, I was taking ground balls, too," said Reyes, who was activated two hours before the game. "You don't always win games hitting. You play good defense, too."
His good defense led to New York's first save situation since the Mets traded closer Francisco Rodriguez last week. Facing his former team, with whom he recorded 217 of his previous 293 career saves, Jason Isringhausen nailed down the final three outs for his first save with the Mets in more than 12 years.
"I knew it was going to happen this way," he said. "As soon as they came into town, I knew I was going to have to pitch probably all three games. That's just the way it goes -- baseball gods, that's the way they do it."
If the baseball gods have been watching over Citi Field the past three seasons, however, the Mets have hardly noticed. Poor play has led to decreased expectations around the team, prompting front-office personnel changes and the current spate of trade rumors. Continuing to insist that Reyes is going nowhere, the Mets have made no such guarantees for Beltran, Isringhausen and a host of others.
Every move Beltran makes, then, carries with it insinuations and consequences. Plenty of scouts were in attendance to watch Beltran double with two outs in the first and third innings, walk to extend run-scoring rallies in the fifth and sixth, and single to cap a perfect night in the eighth. His walks preceded two-run doubles by Angel Pagan and Daniel Murphy, respectively, which several Mets noted was no coincidence.
With Reyes and Beltran back in the fold, Collins was finally able to slide Pagan back down to the fifth spot in the batting order, moving Daniel Murphy to cleanup and giving his lineup an extra measure of length. That Reyes and Beltran finished a combined 5-for-8 with two walks and two runs scored was only a part of the equation; the rest of the team directly benefited from their presence.
"It all starts at the top," Murphy said, referring to Reyes.
"Everybody wants to play at the same level that he plays," Pagan said.
The result was an uplifting victory, in a game that seemed more lopsided than it was. Outside of a booming home run by Lance Berkman and an RBI single from pitcher Kyle Lohse, the Cardinals did little damage against Mets starter Dillon Gee, who won for the first time in more than three weeks. By far their best rally occurred in the eighth, but Parnell -- with a healthy assist from Reyes -- squelched that opportunity.
"Overall, they just got a lot more hits than we did," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "They just pitched better and played better, hit better. Actually the score was a little misleading."
What the Mets hope is Tuesday's victory can spark some sort of streak, some last-ditch effort to prove that this team is worth keeping intact. It may not work. In the coming weeks, in fact, the Mets may be forced to rediscover life without Beltran all over again.
That's business, they say. That's baseball. But given days such as Tuesday, the Mets now know all too well what they're in danger of losing.