With 3 1/2 games (and uh, 4 teams) seperating the New York Mets from the NL Wild Card, CF Carlos Beltran has pledged to delay facial surgery in favor of playing with a specially designed mask. Suitably impressed, the New York Times’ Selena Roberts wonders if this gesture will heal the rift between Beltran and frustrated Mets fans.

Having survived a gruesome head-on collision with Mike Cameron last week, Beltran should be back on the field with the Mets really soon, maybe even tonight, but what will he look like upon his return?

Will his mask be Phantom of the Opera or Hannibal Lecter? Will it resemble an N.H.L. eye shield or N.F.L. face guard?

“The doctor said I should have protection in the field and they’re going to try to do something with the helmet,” said Beltran (above), later adding, “I don’t know what they’re going to come up with.”

A mask may be just what Beltran needs to reveal his true identity.

Throughout his hard landing in New York as the $119 million Met, it is no secret that he has performed his best when Pedro Martínez has provided cover for him as the star of the moment on the mound.

The Pedro Mask – complete with curly locks, a mischievous smile, and, at least to batters, wickedly determined eyes – has given shelter to Beltran. About every fifth day, Pedro is the object of attention, the off-season move of importance.

It has been a chance for Beltran to relax. And on this “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” it has been an instant for Beltran to kick back, hit away and skip the scrutiny that has dogged him during a season in which the analysis of his New York initiation has been unrelenting.

This was before he crawled away from a collision. Now Beltran can be cast as a survivor. He is an injured star who has chosen to play for his team. He is a teammate willing to risk jaw problems later in life that could mean chewing food from a Cuisinart. Now Beltran can be the man in the mask.

Who is going to boo a player with a broken face? Who is going to jeer the courage of a center fielder who wants to dive, dive again?

Selena, the first time Beltran goes 0 for 4 or drops a ball Roger Cedeno or Gerald Williams wouldn’t have gotten within 30 feet of, you’ll have your answer.