Beltran haunts Cards again
Center fielder's bat carries Mets in NLCS opener at Shea
NEW YORK -- The Cardinals have seen this Carlos Beltran before.
In Thursday's opener of the National League Championship Series, he accounted for the game's only runs with a two-run homer in the sixth inning, and even managed to double up Albert Pujols at first base on a key play to end the fourth.
After the game, the Mets' center fielder answered the question that was on everyone's mind: Did he remind himself of October 2004? Was it a flashback of those days in an Astros uniform when he smashed one postseason record after another for Houston and would have been NLCS MVP if not for that Game 7 comeback victory by St. Louis?
"Yeah, in the postseason that I had with the Astros against St. Louis, that was a great postseason, and just hitting the home run today, of course, brings memories," he said. "But I cannot be thinking about what I did in 2004. This is 2006, and I just need to continue to do it, you know, to do the right things for the team and try to help the team any way I can offensively or defensively."
That he did, and it's all Tom Glavine needed. As long as we're flashing back through postseason history, you might as well go back to the 1995 World Series clincher, when it was a Glavine shutout and a Dave Justice homer that provided all the scoring for Atlanta against Cleveland. This time, you could substitute Beltran for Justice, and one gets the feeling that it won't be the last time anyone hears from Señor Octubre.
"Carlos? Well, he's a big-game guy," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "He's shown what he can do throughout the season. We're not looking for him to duplicate that, but he seems to have a flare for coming through in a big spot. [That was a] huge home run for us. Everyone is getting out a little bit sluggish and you make a mistake to him, you're going to pay for it. [It was an] outstanding job to get us on the board."
Beltran's homer was one of the few mistakes made by Cardinals starter Jeff Weaver, who pitched an otherwise brilliant outing. It followed a two-out single by Paul Lo Duca, and on a 2-2 pitch, Beltran belted it 430 feet into the night.
"Weaver is a guy that has a good sinker and also has a good cutter," Beltran said. "Today, he didn't use the cutter. We went out there thinking about that pitch, and he basically was getting outs with fastballs outside, inside. When I got to the 2 2 count, I was trying to see the ball, hit the ball. I mean, I wasn't looking for any pitch, and he threw me a fastball right in the middle of the plate. I think the catcher was sitting outside and he left it in the middle. When I hit it, I knew it was going to be out of the ballpark."
There was a lot of that going on back in that magical run of 2004. The 2004 NLCS was as close as a team sport can come to an individual battle of superstars, with Beltran and Pujols performing at spectacular levels of wonder. Pujols was named the MVP of that series as the Cardinals won it in seven, and it almost certainly would have swung in Beltran's favor had St. Louis not found a way to beat Roger Clemens in that clincher.
For Beltran, that series marked a continuation of a monster postseason that had begun for him in the 2004 NL Division Series against Atlanta. He matched Barry Bonds' 2002 record with eight homers in a postseason. He set a Major League postseason record with a homer in five consecutive games, stretching from Game 5 of the NLDS through Game 4 of the NLCS. He set a record with 21 runs scored in a single postseason, and had an extra-base hit in seven consecutive playoff games to tie the record.
Beltran's eighth homer of that postseason was especially memorable. It came off Cardinals reliever Julian Tavarez to break a 5-5 tie, allowing Houston to tie that series at 2-2. And there was that spectacular diving catch during the series portion at Minute Maid Park, as well as the time he went all the way back and up onto Tal's Hill in dead center to rob the Cardinals defensively.
Outstanding in October
Mets outfielder Shawn Green has seen Beltran do these kinds of things defensively before.
"I've only been here five or six weeks and I've seen Beltran do that to a few teams now," he said of the double-play catch-and-throw on the run in shallow center. "He's so smooth in the outfield, he's just gliding right to it and he comes through with the big play."
Just like in 2004. Beltran was everywhere then. Pujols (the 2004 NLCS MVP), Jim Edmonds and the Cardinals were just a little bit better back then.
"Put it this way: I think my Lord let me come through in situations like this one," Beltran said. "My first postseason, I just went out and tried to have fun, tried to enjoy the time, because as a player you never know when it's going to be your next opportunity to be in a situation like that one.
"I didn't try to do too much. I just let things happen and not try to make things happen. I'm approaching this one the same -- I'm not trying to hit the home runs, hit the base hit and hit the double. I'm trying to help the team and keep it simple. Sometimes as a hitter you try to do so much and things don't go the way you want it. When you go into the batter's box and just see the ball and hit the ball, a lot of good things happen."
Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado said no one should feel like Beltran has to dominate for them to advance.
"It seems like a different guy every night for us," Delgado said. "Tonight, it was Tom's turn and Carlos' turn."
Still, one had to remember. Beltran was asked if he knows much about the career of one Reginald Martinez Jackson, known in this rather large and postseason-savvy metropolis as "Mr. October." Jackson played for five World Series winners during the 1970s, three with the A's and two with the Yankees, and is most remembered for three homers in one 1977 World Series game. So, Beltran, what do you know about that?
"I'm Carlos Beltran," he said in the interview room, amid laughter. "Reggie Jackson is Reggie Jackson. It's a great comparison. But in postseason, this is a blessing; for me, it's a blessing. Every time you make it to the postseason, it means your team plays well and you contribute to help the team win. It makes me feel happy that, you know, I was able to come through today."
That's nine homers in his last 16 postseason games. Pretty Reggie-like. It's something the Cardinals and their fans remember all too well, and now the question is whether it is the start of another Beltran showcase and whether St. Louis will have an answer again.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.