Not since that time have the Mets felt so anxious for a player's return.
Now, it's Carlos Beltran's turn to help.
"I'm happy to be back and be part of the team," Beltran said Sunday, "to try to help accomplish our mission, which is to try and win a division and try to be in the playoffs."
First thing, of course, is first. Beltran will return to the Mets on Thursday, for the start of a four-game set in San Francisco. He will bat cleanup and start in center field, with the Mets hoping to keep him entrenched in both roles for the remainder of the season.
The Mets have seen nothing of this magnitude since Martinez returned to the Mets in September 2007 after an 11-month recovery from right rotator cuff surgery. In the thick of a heated pennant race, Martinez started five games for the Mets and won three of them, posting a 2.57 ERA at a time when the Mets were in desperate need of effective starting pitching.
Martinez was limited, as Beltran will be, unable to approach his past levels of greatness. But Martinez helped. And the Mets hope that Beltran can provide a similar boost.
"I don't expect to come here and rake," Beltran said. "I expect to come here and do my part."
That said, everyone will make way for the five-time All-Star and 1999 AL Rookie of the Year. To accommodate Beltran, rookie Ike Davis will move out of the cleanup spot in the lineup. He and the five through seven hitters will all shift down a notch. And right fielder Jeff Francoeur will relinquish some of his playing time -- including Thursday's start -- to Angel Pagan, who thrived as the center fielder in Beltran's absence.
The Mets are hoping for a seamless transition.
"He's ready to go," manager Jerry Manuel said. "He probably won't be at the level of everybody else. That will take him some time. But he's still a pretty good player."
The last time Beltran played a full season for the Mets, he hit .284 with 27 home runs, 40 doubles, 116 runs scored and 112 RBIs in 2008. He is older now, of course, at an age -- 33 -- when so many big leaguers begin to decline. And Beltran is just six months removed from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He will wear a brace on the joint that will limit his mobility.
But he remains Carlos Beltran, a name that carries some cache. When he digs in the box Thursday, likely in the first inning against Tim Lincecum of the Giants, people will take notice. The Mets will all crane their necks to sneak a peek at what they've been missing.
In 14 rehab games with Class A St. Lucie, Beltran hit .367 with seven walks and five doubles. The Mets will take even a fraction of that production with the big club.
"I'm ready to go outside and play the game the way it's supposed to be played," Beltran said. "It doesn't matter if I'm 80, 90, 100 percent. What is important is that ... I'm good to go."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.