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Sitting in the St. Louis dugout hours before the game, Beltran answered questions (in two languages) from a media mob for 20 minutes. He hosted a charity event in New York on Thursday night, an off day for both teams, that was attended by Santana, Mets manager Terry Collins and trainer Ray Ramirez.
Beltran said he really enjoyed his 6 1/2 seasons with the Mets after signing a $119 million, seven-year contract in January 2005 that brought with it the weight of lofty expectations. He only wishes he could have been healthy the entire time and helped the team win a championship.
The Mets came close in 2006, when Beltran took a called third strike with the bases loaded to end Game 7 of the NL championship series against St. Louis. Some fans in New York haven't forgiven him.
"If that's what they want to remember, that's them. I can't control that," Beltran said. "I just wish I could have done different. It didn't happen."
It was a pivotal moment for both franchises. The Cardinals went on to win the World Series that season and again last year. The Mets collapsed down the stretch in 2007 and 2008, and haven't been back to the playoffs.
With the Mets trailing 3-1 and fans on their feet at a rocking Shea Stadium, Beltran froze on a nasty curveball from Wainwright, a rookie closer in October 2006. In a fitting twist, Wainwright started Friday night for the Cardinals and Beltran was back in center field for the first time since 2010 because of injuries to teammates Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker.
Beltran, a three-time Gold Glove winner in center with the Mets, graciously moved to right before the 2011 season to ease the strain on his surgically repaired knees and make way for speedy protege Angel Pagan.
Looking toward the future and with Beltran in the final season of his deal, New York shipped him to San Francisco just a few days before last year's trade deadline for top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. And that was the end of Beltran's time in New York.
"Sometimes I do miss it, sometimes I don't. Being honest," Beltran said. "I consider my time here a life experience for me."
Wheeler is throwing well at Double-A Binghamton, while Beltran is off to a great start with his new team. After signing a $26 million, two-year contract with the Cardinals in December, he began the night batting .294 with 42 RBIs and an NL-best 15 homers. He ranks among the league leaders in several categories.
"I think he's one of the most efficient players I've ever seen," Matheny said. "I think in every aspect he's been a huge part of what's becoming the makeup of this team."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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