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Column: Is this the way to win a batting title?

New York Mets' Jose Reyes (7) points to the cheers of the fans before a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011, at Citi Field in New York. New York Mets' Jose Reyes (7) points to the cheers of the fans before a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011, at Citi Field in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)
By Eddie Pells
AP National Writer / September 29, 2011

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At least we didn't have to hear Jose Reyes trot out those lame sports cliches about how the credit should go to his teammates.

This one was all about him.

On a night that every Little League coach should immediately burn from memory, the New York Mets shortstop turtled his way to the NL batting title with a bunt single, a request to be pulled from the game, and a chorus of boos from the 28,000 fans who came to see one of the game's best hitters take what could be a final victory lap around Citi Field.

Reyes wrapped up the batting title by going 1 for 1 -- the bunt single in the first inning -- and beating Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, who actually tried but got no hits later in the evening when he needed three.

"A lot of people told me I shouldn't play today," Reyes said. "I said, 'Oh, no. I want to play.' I want to be there for the fans."

Given their reaction, Reyes shouldn't have done them any favors.

He becomes a free agent this offseason and if it turns out this was his last game in a home uniform in New York, it was awkward, ugly and a little sad. Trying to understand the psychology behind the decisions that led to this debacle is a window into what the Mets have become.

They, of course, would love to keep Reyes and don't want to do anything to upset him. But the reality is, they're plagued with financial problems. Those problems have played into three straight losing seasons, trades involving stars Carlos Beltran and Francisco Rodriguez and as many headlines for their ties with Bernie Madoff as anything on the baseball diamond.

Mets manager Terry Collins went along with Reyes' request to be pulled if he got a hit to open the game.

If he didn't honor Reyes' request, Collins said, "I could possibly lose the one thing I helped create all summer long in one instance, and I wasn't going to let that happen today."

There is an argument to be made -- that a batting title over a long, grueling season isn't won in a single night, though it certainly can be lost. And with so little going for them, the Mets certainly couldn't be blamed for wanting to preserve a little bit of history -- in this case, Reyes' league-leading .337 batting average.

Clearly, Reyes and the Mets aren't the first ones to choose this route. Back in his day, Wade Boggs sat out some end-of-season games to ostensibly nurse some injuries while also protecting his league-leading batting average.

But those arguments came off a little hollow, especially on this night.

Down the East Coast, Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon was putting it all on the line, trying to help the Red Sox avoid one of the biggest collapses in baseball history. He gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth to Baltimore and now has a spot alongside Bill Buckner in the Red Sox hall of shame.

But at least he didn't finish the season sitting in the dugout.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay overcame a seven-run deficit to beat the Yankees, knocked out Boston for the wildcard spot and capped off what will go down as one of the wildest nights baseball. It was an uplifting reminder of how great the national pastime really can be when the stakes are high and the players put it all on the line.

The Reyes affair will wind up as a footnote, though one the free agent probably will hear about every time he comes back to New York, more than likely as a visitor.

Mets fans weren't the only ones who took umbrage.

"Seriously people -- taking out a star player to preserve his batting average lead -- weak," said Rangers pitcher C.J. Wilson in a tweet.

Baseball has always been the most unique of team sports because individual performances are so integral to it. As the hit movie "Moneyball" is reminding us, those batting averages and ERAs are worth a lot. Winning the batting title speaks to a player's longevity and consistency over the longest season in professional sports.

But there are ways to do things and ways not to do things.

Seventy years ago, on the very night that Reyes bunted to his title, Ted Williams brought a .400 average into a final-day doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics. He could have sat that day. Instead, he played both games and went 6 for 8 to finish the season at .406. His explanation for playing was simple: He didn't deserve the .400 average if he sat out.

Fans ran onto the field and mobbed Williams, who needed an escort from his teammates to make it to the locker room.

When the game ended in New York, a few fans chanted, "Please stay, Jose" -- asking a man who had just ripped them off to stick around, maybe come back and entertain them again next year.

He saluted the crowd and threw his hat into the stands.

During the next few months fans can be sure Reyes will make the choice that serves him best.

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AP National Writer Eddie Pells can be reached at epells(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/epells

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