NEW YORK -- It's kind of like picking your favorite Michael Jordan moment or Nolan Ryan strikeout. When asked which injury hurt the 2009 Mets the most, manager Jerry Manuel had a lot of contending choices.

There's the torn labrum in Carlos Delgado's hip that robbed the Mets' lineup of its best power presence. There's the knee problems for Oliver Perez and shoulder weakness for John Maine that prevented the Mets from having a healthy rotation. There's the bone bruise on Carlos Beltran's knee that seems to have been the nail in the Mets' coffin of contention. And there's the elbow trouble that limited Johan Santana's productivity long before the ace underwent late-summer surgery.

But Manuel didn't hesitate before answering. He knew right away.

"I would have to say the Reyes injury, no doubt about it," Manuel said. "That was probably our toughest in terms of the uncertainty and the expectations of it."

Jose Reyes' calf and hamstring issues -- the former merging into the latter as the summer progressed -- have been particularly maddening because of that uncertainty. When he sat out that first game in San Francisco on May 14, the Mets believed it would be the only game their shortstop would miss.

Reyes missed that series by the Bay, but returned to start two games against the Dodgers. In the second, he pulled himself from the contest after aggravating the injury trying to beat out an infield single.

Reyes hasn't taken the field since.

There have been starts and stops throughout Reyes' rehabilitation that led the Mets to think he would return shortly. But the shortstop's recovery has turned the adage of one step forward, two steps back into metaphysical certainty.

"We were very close," Manuel said. "It was, 'Well, at least I know I'll have him after the All-Star break. At least I know I'll have him in August. At least I know I'll get to see him in September.'"

Furthermore, the uncertainty surrounding Reyes' health won't go away anytime soon. His inability to return this season -- or seemingly make any progress during the second half of the season -- keeps open the question of surgery in the offseason. Manuel said that was strictly a medical decision.

Regardless of whether Reyes has surgery or not, his status will remain up in the air into Spring Training 2010. And one thing Manuel has preached this month is his desire to limit the number of questions facing his team when it embarks to Port St. Lucie in February.

"I haven't seen him run or anything, so that's still a question for me," Manuel said. "What I'd like to know [in Spring Training] is he's healthy. That's the No. 1 thing for me. Spring Training becomes a very important time for him versus what it has been the last few years."