Beltran's breakout game twice as nice

NEW YORK -- It took seven games, but Carlos Beltran finally broke out.

Beltran went 2-for-4 with two home runs (both from the right side of the plate), three RBIs and three runs scored in the New York Mets' 8-4 victory over the Washington Nationals in front of 31,696 on Saturday night at Citi Field.

"I feel like all the time I put into spring training, working in the cage, getting there early and doing my rehab and trying to work my legs has paid off," said Beltran, who proved to be a vital cog in helping the Mets (4-4) snap a three-game losing streak.

It was Beltran's 28th multi-homer game of his career, and first since Sept. 26, 2010. Four of his last eight multi-homer games have came against the Nationals.

"When you're playing this game, sometimes your confidence might go away a little bit," said Beltran, who played just 64 games last season because of injury. "But you just can't get too crazy in this game. There's a lot of games left. The season is just beginning and I gotta understand that I'm going to go through good times and bad times. It's all going to the cage and sticking with the plan."

Beltran, who will turn 34 on April 24, came into the game batting just .190 (6-for-21) with two doubles. But manager Terry Collins had a feeling his right fielder -- who has only missed one of the Mets' eight games -- was due.

"He's real close to doing exactly what we want him to do, and that's drive in some big runs for us," Collins said before Saturday night's game.

As it turns out, Collins was prophetic.

"In Philly I was having a good time in the cage," Beltran said. "I was feeling my swing. So I told him, 'Don't worry about me, everything's gonna be fine. My time will come.'"

Did it ever.

Beltran began his night by blasting his first homer of the season, a two-run shot with one out in the bottom of the first inning that gave the Mets a 2-0 lead. With the count 1-1, Beltran turned on a belt-high, 85 mph change-up from Nationals southpaw Tom Gorzelanny and deposited it deep into the left-field seats.

By driving in shortstop Jose Reyes from second base, Beltran snapped the team's 0-for-16 skid with runners in scoring position.

"That particular pitch I was looking soft," Beltran said. "I got it up in the zone and just wanted to hit it. I was able to get to it and hit it good."

Beltran again victimized Gorzelanny in the fourth. This time the count was 3-1 when Beltran bashed an 86 mph change-up over the tall wall in left. His one-out solo blast tied the game at 3-3.

Beltran also figured in the Mets' sixth-inning rally that put them ahead to stay. After third baseman David Wright led off with a walk, Beltran skied a deep fly ball into left. It looked like a routine catch for Jerry Hairston Jr., but the Nationals left fielder dropped the ball, allowing Beltran to reach second base and Wright to head to third.

Hairston's brother, Mets left fielder Scott Hairston, struck out, but first baseman Ike Davis followed with a two-RBI triple -- the second three-bagger of his career -- which gave the Mets a 5-4 lead they never relinquished.

"Those two runs were huge," Beltran said of Davis' triple. "He hit the ball to the middle of the field and he gave us those two runs right there. It was just a matter of time that we were going to be able to get runs with guys in scoring position and less than two outs."

Beltran, who is slated to make $18.5 million in the final year of his contract, had missed most of spring training with knee tendinitis, prompting some critics to question his desire to continue playing the game at a high level. But Collins never believed the skeptics. He had faith in his 14-year veteran.

"Sometimes stars get a bad wrap going," Collins said. "Everybody says, 'Well he didn't wanna be in spring training. He doesn't like spring training,' or whatever it was. But all this guy did in spring training was try to get himself ready for the baseball season. He knew spring training is a process, but he knew it wasn't that big a thing.

"And he wasn't about to jeopardize the start of the season to try to get into spring training games. We met on a daily basis to make sure he was all right. We put a plan down the first few weeks to make sure we've got him in June."

Beltran said he was frustrated that he wasn't able to play more during spring training. But he stayed in the right frame of mind, even visualizing future success once the regular season began.

So did he envision a night like this?

"I didn't visualize this today," Beltran said. "But when you're not playing, you kind of visualize yourself doing things at the ballpark just to go harder every day. When things get tough, that's the way you have to approach this game. You have to come to the ballpark every day and hope that every thing will change for good. This game is a marathon. You can't get too crazy early. You have to trust and believe in your capabilities, work hard and your time will come."

Despite having a huge day at the plate on Saturday night, Beltran -- who said he's still concerned about his legs -- will likely get Sunday afternoon off. Collins has reiterated that he'll sit the former All-Star occasionally, playing him about five out of every seven games to keep him healthy.

"It's not like I'll come here and not do anything," Beltran said. "I will go into the cage and swing. I'll hit off the curve machine to get my timing down and let Terry know that if he needs me for a double-switch or whatever, I'll be here."

Just don't expect to see Beltran out there on Sunday afternoon -- unless the Mets are in dire straits.

"If we put him out there in the cold after a 3½-hour game last night and he got hurt," Collins said, "I wouldn't be able to live with myself."

Mike Mazzeo is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.