Saturday, July 2nd 2011, 4:00 AM
In his younger days, Alex Rodriguez was widely known as baseball's best player, so he knows plenty about what the top player in the game looks like. And these days, A-Rod says, an exuberant, smiley shortstop from Queens is baseball's best - Jose Reyes.
"They have the world's greatest player right now playing shortstop over there, and most exciting," Rodriguez said Friday, a few hours before the Yankees beat the Mets 5-1 at Citi Field in the latest installment of the Subway Series. "I turn the TV on every time I get a chance to watch him."
Asked further about Reyes, Rodriguez said, "All-world. I'm a huge baseball fan, and anytime you see a kid like Reyes, it's very exciting. If I wasn't playing third base, I'd definitely buy a ticket and try to come all weekend because you have great players all over the field and right now there's not a player in the world that's playing at a higher level than Jose Reyes."
Everywhere you turned at Citi Field before Friday night's game, folks were talking about Reyes, from Rodriguez to Joe Girardi to Reyes himself, who hosted a large contingent of media at his locker when the Mets' clubhouse opened to reporters.
Reyes was clearly honored by what Rodriguez said about him and even tried to turn it into a mutual admiration society by saying Rodriguez was "the best player in the world," though most believe Rodriguez, as terrific as he still is, isn't in that lofty stratosphere these days.
"It's nice, It's nice he say that about me," Reyes said. "We are good friends. It's nice that he thinks that, especially because he is the best player in the world. It's nice that players notice what I am doing, but at the same time, I don't let it get to my head, I still have to go out there and focus."
Alex Rodriguez says he watches Jose Reyes and the Mets on TV when he can. (Howard Simmons/News)
The topic came up because Rodriguez was asked if he thought this version of the Subway Series lacked sizzle because of the absences of Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter and Met third baseman David Wright, who are both injured. Because of Reyes and because of the way the hot Mets have played recently, Rodriguez wasn't buying any "less hype" suggestions.
"Normally I would say yes, but I mean, I can't remember a more exciting series against the Mets coming up just because they've been playing so extremely well," Rodriguez said. "I mean they've been playing at a really high level."
The 28-year-old Reyes, who will be a free agent after the season, entered Friday night's game leading the majors in batting average (.352), hits (121), triples (15) and multi-hit games (41). He also leads the National League with 65 runs scored and is second in the majors with 30 steals. He had a scorching June with 45 hits, 29 runs, seven triples and 11 steals - Ty Cobb was the last player to reach at least those levels in all four of those categories, doing so in July of 1912.
Reyes has made a habit of wrecking opposing pitchers' concentration, something he delights in. "They throw over there a lot, like three or four times, that means they're worried about me," Reyes said. "I like that a lot."
"You've got to keep him off the bases," Girardi said. "The way he's swinging the bat, it hasn't been easy for clubs to do. He's hitting close to .400 in the month of June (.385), so now that it's July 1, maybe he can go the other way.
"I think what he does is he can get in the mind of the pitcher where the focus is shared," Girardi added. "It's not necessarily on getting the hitter out, it's worried about him running and being quicker to home plate and giving your catcher a chance. And that can create issues if the pitcher's not able to refocus before he goes home. We've talked to our pitchers a lot about those types of things."