"That's a pretty good lineup," beamed Beltran, who was astonished to learn that he would be batting behind Bonds, not the other way around.
When La Russa's plans were clarified for him, the Mets center fielder's eyes grew as big as saucers.
"I'm behind him? I thought it was backwards," said Beltran, who was in the No. 2 slot in last summer's All-Star Game in the lineup assembled by Phil Garner -- his former Astros manager. "Well, that means Barry will see a lot of breaking pitches."
Not if Reyes can help it. The NL's leadoff batter, the Majors' stolen base leader with 46, plans to be on base when Bonds get his hometown turn -- well, actually, plans to be dancing off
base, to distract and influence AL pitchers, beginning with Dan Haren.
"They'll be afraid that I'll steal, and Barry should get a lot of fastballs," Reyes said.
All three are holdover All-Stars from a year ago, when the Mets had a slightly larger contingent of five players, including starting catcher Paul Lo Duca and left-hander Tom Glavine. Another left-hander, closer Billy Wagner, is part of this squad.
Mets contributed mightily to the 2-1 lead the NL held until two outs in the ninth inning in Pittsburgh's PNC Park last year: Wright belted a second-inning homer, and Beltran went 2-for-4 with a steal of third base that enabled him to score on a third-inning wild pitch. That late edge couldn't survive Michael Young's two-run triple.
Reyes also was voted in as a starter last year, but he couldn't play because of a hand injury. If he could, Reyes would like to make up for it this time by playing the whole game, if it would help his league snap a 10-year winless streak.
"Oh, yeah. I'd love to do that," Reyes said. "But it's up to the manager, and he wants to get in other people the fans want to see."
An All-Star break is the season's pit stop, where conversation is dominated by reflections on the first half and anticipation of the second. This conversation pit has been different for the Mets: A year ago, they were dissecting a runaway (a 12-game division lead); this time, they had to discuss a 13-20 spiral that has pared their NL East edge over Atlanta to two games.
None of them defended the team's recent play. But they chorused on the theme, "Hey, give us some slack. All those injuries and we still got a lead."
Asked to grade the team's first-half play, Wagner said, "C-minus. Even that's probably a little high."
"We've been very inconsistent," Wagner elaborated. "The young kids in the rotation [John Maine, Oliver Perez, Jorge Sosa] have really stepped up, but the offense has underachieved and the bullpen hasn't been putting teams away the way we did last year.
"But the positive thing is, we are in first place with a chance to improve on that. With the talent we have on the team, we should be better."
"We haven't really played the way we're capable," Wright said, "but I think our best baseball is ahead of us. We just need to step up and maintain that consistency and energy."
No problems with energy the next couple of days. A year ago, Beltran started in center between Alfonso Soriano and Jason Bay. No disrespect meant, but they're no Bonds and Griffey, who will be bookending him Tuesday night.
"To play with Bonds and Griffey ... it's a dream come true," Beltran said. "I admired those guys since high school, and to share a clubhouse with them is a great feeling. As a kid, you never think you'll be in that situation.
"To be here, I'm just very blessed."