The last time we saw Carlos Beltran in the MLB postseason, he held his bat on his shoulder while an Adam Wainwright pitch froze him for strike three, clinching an NLCS victory for the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Mets in 2006.
Perhaps no player in this year's MLB playoff field wanted to get back to the postseason more than Beltran. He didn't get back there in his following four seasons with the Mets. He probably thought he had a chance of returning after getting traded to the San Francisco Giants last year, but ultimately the Giants could not make the NL pennant cut.
Beltran is surely looking for some redemption this postseason. He just may have found it with his performance in Game 2 of the NLDS versus the Washington Nationals. Beltran hit two home runs with three RBI, batting 2-for-4, in a 12-4 rout over the Nats.
Redemption might be the wrong word for what Beltran will receive with a strong postseason—he might actually get affirmation. While he's been defined by that NLCS strikeout—and image of watching Wainwright's curveball flip by him—Beltran has actually been an excellent hitter in his MLB playoff career.
Beltran first made it to the playoffs with the Houston Astros in 2004, after being acquired from the Kansas City Royals. It was a classic trade-deadline deal. The cash-strapped Royals wanted to get something for Beltran rather than risk losing him for nothing in free agency, and the Astros needed a big bat for their playoff push.
In the '04 NLDS against the Atlanta Braves, Beltran compiled a triple-slash average of .455/.500/1.091 with two doubles, four home runs, nine RBI and two stolen bases in 24 plate appearances. The Astros won the series, 3-2, and advanced to the NLCS.
Facing the Cardinals, Beltran kept swinging a hot bat. In 32 plate appearances, he hit .417/.563/.958 with four homers, five RBI, four stolen bases and eight walks. But after taking a 3-2 series lead, the Astros lost the final two games to the division-rival Cards, with St. Louis advancing to the World Series to play the Boston Red Sox.
Returning to the postseason two years later with the Mets, Beltran struggled in the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He batted .222 with a .722 OPS, one RBI and no extra-base hits in 14 plate appearances. Despite that performance, the Mets swept the series in three games.
In the NLCS against the Cardinals, Beltran was one of the Mets' best hitters. His 1.054 was second in the series to Carlos Delgado's 1.274 among Mets batters. Beltran hit .296 with three homers and four RBI in 31 plate appearances.
However, most people only recall that series-ending strikeout. Even Mets owner Fred Wilpon acted out the strikeout for writer Jeffrey Toobin in an infamous 2011 New Yorker profile. Beltran hit 41 home runs and 116 RBI that year. But those accomplishments were reduced to freezing on that Wainwright curveball for a called strike three.
Beltran just couldn't get past those Cardinals. As Yosemite Sam once said, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
Beltran had a resurgent first year with St. Louis this season. He was an MVP candidate through much of the season—especially the first half of the season—hitting 32 home runs with 97 RBI. Those were his best numbers in both categories since 2008.
However, that was the regular season. Beltran still had to get back to the postseason and redeem himself.
In his first three plate appearances in Monday's NLDS Game 2, Beltran went 0-2 with a groundout, flyout and walk.
But in the sixth inning, he crushed a ball off the facing of the third deck at Busch Stadium for a solo home run and an 8-3 Cardinals lead. In the eighth, Beltran launched a ball deep into the left-field seats for a two-run homer.
By the way, both home runs were hit right-handed by the switch-hitting Beltran off lefty relievers Michael Gonzalez and Sean Burnett. If there was a thought by the Nationals that Beltran might be less effective as a right-handed batter, Beltran smacked those ideas out of the ballpark. (He actually hit better against righties this season, albeit in nearly 300 fewer plate appearances.)
It was just one game, of course. And the NLDS is tied at 1-1 with the next three games to be played at Nationals Park. The Cardinals could still lose this series and Beltran could play badly in the next two to three games.
Yet Beltran is one of the most underrated postseason stars in recent memory. He has 13 home runs in 25 playoff games. His slash average is .362/.478/.819.
He deserves far better than to be remembered solely for a strikeout against a pitcher who's become one of the best in the majors over his subsequent six seasons.
Beltran's regular season showed us he still has plenty left. His postseason may remind us that he's one of the best clutch hitters of the past 10 years.
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