There were two outs in the ninth inning, the Mets down two runs, the bases loaded. The stage was set for Beltran to become a New York legend.
But it wasn't to be. Wainwright quickly got ahead in the count before dropping a devastating curve ball, freezing the Mets star for a called third strike. Seconds later, the underdog Cardinals were celebrating the pennant at Shea Stadium.
The Mets would squander opportunities to advance to the postseason in two subsequent years, despite a nucleus of veteran stars consisting of Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes, and David Wright.
Then, just as suddenly as it seemed to open, the window closed on the New York Mets.
Delgado, then Reyes, then Beltran all went down with long-term injuries this season, and the top-heavy roster has been unable to cover for the absence of its stars. The Mets, Vegas' preseason favorite to reach the World Series, were essentially out of contention by the All-Star break; a franchise going from the precipice of glory to absolute uncertainty in three short years.
It's a sobering saga that we can only hope has caught the attention of the Yankees.
Derek Jeter is 35. Jorge Posada is 37. Alex Rodriguez is 34. Mariano Rivera is 39. That each of these players are healthy is a blessing. That they all remain high-level performers is a minor miracle.
This may be the last chance the old guard gets to win a title. In the PED culture of the 1990s and early 2000s, 40 became the new 35. Now, with greenies and other stimulants banned from the clubhouse and strict drug testing in place, 35 has become the new 35. Reach that magic number, and you're destined for a steep decline—that is, if you haven't started to fade already.
This would be a good time to take another look at the ages of the Yankees' veteran stars. Go ahead, it's two paragraphs up.
The Yankees that we know are already on borrowed time. It made Brian Cashman's decision to stand pat at the trade deadline all the more frustrating. This is the ultimate win-now team, and the Yankees should be doing everything in their power to make this a championship season.
The Yankees have the resources and feeder system to sustain a winning culture into the next decade, but this may be their last opportunity to field a team that combines the skills of the old guard with the club's young talent.
The lethal 1-2 combination of Phil Hughes and Rivera is a one-shot deal. Same goes for a rotation that allows Joba Chamberlain to soak up knowledge from Andy Pettitte. The presence of A-Rod and Teixeira hitting back-to-back will never be more potent than it is right now. Jeter and Johnny Damon won't repeat their ability set the table like this again.
The Mets provided a clear example of how fleeting opportunity can be. Take heed, Yankees. It's now or never.