In what a lot of New York Yankees fans are going to take as an indirect jab at rehabbing shortstop Derek Jeter, teammate Alex Rodriguez called Jose Reyes, Jeter's New York Mets counterpart, "the world's greatest player" before the Yankees 5-1 victory at Citi Field.
Before last night's opening game of a three-game series between the two cross-town rivals, A-Rod gushed about Reyes' remarkable season and how great he is playing.
"They have the world's greatest player right now playing shortstop over there, and most exciting," said Rodriguez. "I turn on the TV every time I get a chance to watch him."
Sorry Jeter fans, it's true, even if A-Rod is only comparing the Met to Eduardo Nunez, who is technically the Yankees shortstop right now. Reyes is the man.
"It's nice, it's nice he said that about me," said Reyes. "We are good friends. It's nice that he thinks that, especially because he's the best player in the world. It's nice that players notice what 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."
All that pre-game sweet talk lasted about seven innings into last night's game after Reyes was called out on a controversial play at third base in the bottom of the seventh. The call killed a Mets rally.
On the play, Reyes tagged at first and went to second on a Justin Turner fly ball to center. The alert Reyes tried to advance to third after Nunez misplayed the throw, but home plate umpire Jerry Layne-- who was somehow covering the base-- said Reyes was tagged "on the side of the belt-buttocks area" by Rodriguez as Nunez's throw made it to third.
Reyes jumped up up protesting and had to be separated from Layne by the Mets third base coach Chip Hale.
"I don't feel any tag," said Reyes. "It was a tough situation there, down 3-1. It's a different ballgame."
Replays show the Mets speedster was right and his manager Terry Collins was ejected for arguing the whiffed tag.
"He acted on his instincts," reasoned Collins. "You can't corral a guy like that."
It sounded like Rodriguez believes he touched more than Reyes' heart.
"I think I just touched a little bit of his sleeve," said A-Rod. "I saw the replay three or four times and I couldn't even tell then."
"I think I had a good chance to make it...but he called me out," Reyes said. "That's part of the game. I try to be aggressive on the basepaths and nothing's gonna change that."
Whatever the outcome, it was a heads up play by Reyes, and is one of the reasons he is so highly regarded. The 28 year-old, who is looking at a free-agency bonanza after the season, currently leads the majors in batting average (.352 ), hits (123), triples (an amazing 15) and multi-hit games (42). Oh yeah, he has 30 steals too.
While Rodriguez's gushing over Reyes might seem like a dig at Jeter, the words weren't as strong as the ones he seemed to direct at him two years ago at the World Baseball Classic. Back then, Rodriguez--a teammate of Reyes on the Dominican Republic team-- said, "I wish he [Reyes] was leading off on our team. That is fun to watch."
A-rod sounds like he's all in with Reyes.
"If I wasn't playing third base, I'd definitely buy a ticket and try and come all weekend," said A-Rod. "...There's not a player in the world that's playing at a higher level than Jose Reyes."
For the first time, the Subway Series doesn't have Jeter as it's main attraction--while he waits to be reactivated from a nagging calf strain. The absence of Jeter and his quest for his 3,000th hit turns the spotlight to the deserving Reyes.
"You've got to keep him [Reyes] off the bases," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "The way he's swinging the bat, it hasn't been easy for clubs to do. He's so close to hitting .400 in the month of June, so now that it's July 1 maybe he can go the other way."
And a little more Mets love from A-Rod.
"I can't remember a more exciting series against the Mets coming up just because they've been playing extremely well," said the poker-playing Yankee. "They've been playing at a really high level."
The love-fest continues Saturday afternoon.