Valentin comes alive in Gateway City
Second baseman breaks out of slump to help Mets in St. Louis
ST. LOUIS -- Jose Valentin acknowledged that he was pressing at the plate before Game 3 of the National League Championship Series between the Mets and Cardinals. In the first two games of the series at Shea Stadium, he was 1-for-7.
But a change of venue seems to have helped Valentin in a big way. In the next two games, he went 3-for-7 at Busch Stadium. His biggest game came in Game 4, when he helped the Mets tie the series at two games apiece. In the sixth inning, with the Mets leading, 6-3, Valentin put the game away by hitting a three-run double off reliever Tyler Johnson.
"It was so weird, we were here in St. Louis the last time when I challenged him to step up, and that's really how he got going," Mets manager Willie Randolph said.
Valentin also saved a run with his glove in the bottom of the fourth inning. With the score tied at 2 and with Ronnie Belliard on second base, pinch-hitter Chris Duncan hit a ball up the middle. Valentin backhanded the ball, spun in the air and threw out Duncan to end the inning.
Although Valentin has played second base for most of the season, the 37-year-old veteran is surprised that he could make a play like the one he made on Sunday. He has played most of his career at shortstop, but switched to the right side of the field after Randolph benched Kazuo Matsui. Valentin learned to get better at second base, with help from first-base coach Sandy Alomar Sr., a second baseman himself in the 1960s and 70s.
"I'm surprised, because I haven't played the position too much in my career," Valentin said. "The way I've been playing the position, it looks like I've been playing there my whole career. But when you have some confidence, then you know you can do the job, no matter where you play. It's the power of believing in yourself. Just catch the ball and make the out. That's what I do perfectly."
It was Game 4 in which Valentin was thinking about his family. After he reached second base on the double, he pointed to his wife, Ikla, and children, Jesmuel, Yomar and Joveliz, who were sitting in the stands. It was his way saying thank you to them for standing behind him during his career.
"My family is way up in the right-field seats," Valentin said. "Those are the guys who have been with me during the good times and bad times. To get a key hit like that, I bet you it's something my family enjoys the same way my teammates enjoyed it. It was a time to give a salute to them. I bet you they appreciated it."
When the Mets signed him last December, Valentin was coming off a bad season with Dodgers in which he played in only 56 games because of knee problems. But Valentin rebounded by playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. That left an impression on Tony Bernazard, the Mets' special assistant to the general manager, who convinced GM Omar Minaya to sign him to a one-year deal. Valentin was supposed to be the team's No. 1 pinch-hitter off the bench. But he ended up playing every day and having one of his best seasons in the big leagues, hitting .271 with 18 home runs and 62 RBIs.
"I knew I could still come back and play and helped somebody else," Valentin said. "The Mets came to me. They gave me the opportunity. "I thought this was the right team to come to. The reason I signed here was to get to the postseason."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.