NEW YORK (AP) - Carlos Beltran received a warm round of applause when he stepped to the plate in the ninth inning of New York's 6-2 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday. Some Mets fans at Citi Field even stood.
After hitting a lazy flyball for the second out, there was another smattering of cheers as he walked back to the dugout with his head down.
If this was Beltran's last home game as a member of the Mets - and there's a very good chance it was - it seemed an appropriate farewell for an All-Star player who was never truly embraced by the home fans.
Beltran went 0 for 3 with a walk as the Mets were shut down by Jake Westbrook.
``I heard the fans cheering,' Beltran said. ``It was great. Let's hope I can come back.'
That appears unlikely.
The slugging outfielder is in the last year of a seven-year contract and there has been seemingly endless speculation about New York trading him before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. The Mets won't return to Citi Field until Aug. 1.
``Right now, he's hitting third tomorrow in Miami,' Mets manager Terry Collins said.
While Beltran hasn't always been the most popular player with fans - many never being able to completely forgive him for striking out looking to end the 2006 NLCS against the Cardinals - he's given the team good production for its money. After signing as a free agent, he made the All-Star team five times with the Mets and hit 149 homers, despite missing much of the previous two seasons with knee injuries.
``I've always had a good relation with the fans,' he said. ``I'm just here to play the game of baseball, and also the fans relate to some players better than others, but I have no issues with the fans.'
The 34-year-old voluntarily moved from center to right field this season, but otherwise has gone back to being one of the National League's top hitters. He has 15 homers, 61 RBIs and an NL-leading 30 doubles, making him the most attractive hitter on the market.
Like the rest of the Mets, though, he couldn't do much with Westbrook on a sweltering get-away day.
With the temperature already at 90 when the first pitch was thrown at 12:13 p.m., Westbrook (8-4) worked efficiently (90 pitches) and rapidly, and kept his infielders busy. He let them get back to the dugout quickly.
``That's the way he works all the time. This guy don't mess around,' Albert Pujols said. ``Working fast, keeping the ball down. He had his sinker going today.'
Westbrook recorded 17 outs on groundballs, including two double plays, and allowed only four hits and two runs. He walked one and struck out three, leading the Cardinals to only their second win since the All-Star break in a tidy 2 hours, 7 minutes.
``I think everybody appreciated it,' Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.
Pujols drove a pitch from Jonathon Niese (9-8) off the facade of the second deck in left field for his 21st home run of the season and a 2-0 lead.
``I left that pitch up,' Niese said.
Westbrook, who came in with an ERA of 5.26 in his first full season with St. Louis, breezed through the first three innings.
``My stuff was the same. My command was better,' he said. ``I was able to harness it.'
The Mets managed to get only one ball out of the infield against the sinkerballer as he retired the first nine batters.
Jose Reyes put an end to that. The major's leading hitter led off the fourth with his league-leading 16th triple, a drive high off the wall in left-center. Justin Turner followed with a grounder to short that cut the lead to 2-1.
The Cardinals came right back with three in the fifth, with the help of some shoddy Mets' defense.
After a double by No. 8 hitter Daniel Descalso and a walk to the pitcher, Nick Punto grounded wide of first base. First baseman Lucas Duda fielded the hopper, but his throw to second glanced off Westbrook's left shoulder and into the outfield, allowing a run to score.
Jon Jay followed with a groundball single up the middle that hit second base to drive in one run, and center fielder Angel Pagan gave the Cardinals another run when he threw behind Jay at first - with nobody covering for the Mets. Though St. Louis first base coach Dave McKay was in perfect position to field the toss, he let it skid toward the dugout.
The stray throw allowed Punto to score all the way from first and make it 5-1.
``We aren't a big strikeout pitching staff,' Collins said. ``We cannot throw the ball around and wins games.'
Niese tossed six innings and allowed five hits and three earned runs. He struck out seven, including Matt Holliday three times.
Jason Pridie cut the lead to 5-2 for the Mets with an RBI single in the eighth, but Skip Schumaker answered with a pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth.
Beltran struck out in the first, drew a walk in the fourth to extend his streak of reaching base safely to 27 games and grounded out to second in the seventh with no fanfare. Not until his final at-bat did the crowd of 37,416 at Citi Field give him a modest going away present.
``The time that I have been here, I have given everything that I have for this team, for this organization,' he said. ``So I feel proud for everything that I have done and I have no regrets.'
NOTES: La Russa said after the game RHP Kyle Lohse was having some discomfort in the middle finger on his pitching hand and was going to get it checked out by doctors. . Cardinals RHP Mets OF Jason Bay sat out with a tight hamstring, though he is expected to be back in the lineup Friday, manager Terry Collins said. ... Ryan Theriot served a one-game suspension from Major League Baseball for making contact with an umpire during an argument.
The Associated Press News Service
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