- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

ST. LOUIS — As much as he wanted to watch the baseball playoffs from his home in Puerto Rico, Carlos Delgado never could get himself to turn on the television, aside from a couple of innings here and there.

Other major leaguers might plop down on their sofas and make a habit out of watching the World Series. After 12 seasons and not a single trip to the postseason, Delgado just couldn’t do it.

“Because I hated not being there,” the New York Mets first baseman said. “And the moment you start watching, you start thinking. You just get competitive and say, ‘Well, he’s going to throw this now,’ and ‘He should do this,’ or ‘He should do that.’ So I didn’t watch much.”

Maybe all the October deprivation did Delgado some good. Because this month, there has been nobody better.

Entering last night’s scheduled Game 5 of the National League Championship Series — which was postponed until tonight because of rain — Delgado was on a torrid run at the plate. In seven postseason games, he’s hitting .414 with four homers and 11 RBI. In this series against the St. Louis Cardinals alone, he’s got three homers, nine RBI and six extra-base hits.

So after a dozen years and more than 1,700 games playing in the relative anonymity of Toronto and Florida, never once getting a chance to play on the bright playoff stage, perhaps Delgado is now finally getting his due recognition. This is a guy, after all, who owns a career .282 batting average, not to mention 407 home runs.

“He’s been, for a long time, one of the best hitters in the game,” New York manager Willie Randolph said. “He’s just a great all-around hitter, and I’m just glad to see that the world, the country, is seeing him on stage like this, showing what a great, great hitter he is.”

The world didn’t get to see Delgado, or any players, on stage last night. Rain drenched the Midwest all day, prompting officials to call off Game 5 well before it was due to start. It will be made up tonight at 8:19, with St. Louis’ Jeff Weaver and New York’s Tom Glavine each pushed back a day to start for their respective clubs.

It was the second rainout in this NLCS, but this one could be advantageous for both teams. Weaver and Glavine were due to be pitching on three days’ rest, but now both can return on their normal schedules to start a crucial game that will leave one club one victory from the World Series.

“You don’t want to have a pitcher pitch [on short rest] if you don’t have to,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.

Certainly not if that pitcher has to throw to Delgado, who has been almost impossible to retire in this series.

The 34-year-old slugger always has had supreme physical gifts and strikes a menacing pose when he gets into the batter’s box. But he’s also perhaps one of the game’s smartest power hitters, constantly charting his at-bats in a notebook and studying opposing pitchers in search of a flaw or weakness.

“I’ve been around quite a few, but he takes it very seriously,” Randolph said. “He studies the game, and he brings that real cerebral approach to his teammates. He’s always been that way, and that’s why he’s probably one of the best hitters in the game.”

Delgado’s influence extends through the entire Mets clubhouse. Fellow Puerto Rican Carlos Beltran, an All-Star in his own right, credits his countrymate with helping infuse some veteran leadership into the New York clubhouse upon his acquisition from the Marlins over the winter.

“When you’re struggling at times, you need to have someone you can go to and trust,” Beltran said. “Carlos is one of those guys.”

On the field, Delgado has made his presence known by coming through in some clutch situations this month. He clubbed a pair of homers off Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter in Game 2 of the NLCS at Shea Stadium, including a three-run shot in the first inning, and launched another three-run blast Sunday night in Game 4 to help the Mets even the series.

He hit all three homers to the opposite field.

“That’s part of the strength and beauty of what he does as a hitter,” Randolph said. “He’s a power hitter who will go the other way and take what you give him for the most part. It’s very, very rare, very unique to see a hitter like him who can turn on you and pull the ball and then can just stay out there and just serve the ball the other way.”

And Delgado’s loving every minute of his coming-out party.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “I played 12-1/2 years and never sniffed the playoffs. This is what every athlete wants to be in: the playoffs with an opportunity to win. It’s a blast.”

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