ST. LOUIS -- Already the author of one of the most storied postseason careers in baseball history, Carlos Beltran wrote another chapter Thursday with one mighty swing.
By crushing a three-run homer in the third inning of Game 1 of the National League Division Series, Beltran moved into a tie with Babe Ruth for eighth place on the all-time postseason homers list and -- more important on this day -- dealt the first salvo for the Cardinals in a 9-1 victory over the Pirates.
That Beltran added another highlight to his sparkling October resume came as no surprise to his teammates. They have watched their 36-year-old elder statesman day in and day out for the last two years, and they know all about his postseason history.
That Beltran launched A.J. Burnett's sinker off the facing of the second deck in right field, well, they couldn't help but take notice.
Beltran and the Babe
"When I was on second base, I almost got just caught up in the moment," said Cards starter Adam Wainwright, who started the seven-run third inning with a leadoff walk. "I threw my hands up in the air as soon as he hit it. I knew it was gone. Then I just watched it for a minute, because I knew it was very gone, and then I realized I had to run."
Said Matt Carpenter, who was on first base: "I thought it was going to go completely out of the stadium. I mean, he killed it."
The announced distance of 443 feet on the towering shot was only one of the impressive numbers Beltran reached with his no-doubter off a 2-1 sinker from Burnett.
With it, Beltran remained third among active players and moved into a tie for eighth place with Ruth on the all-time list with 15 postseason homers. Only Derek Jeter (20) and Albert Pujols (18) have more homers under the October spotlight than Beltran among active players, and he has far fewer plate appearances than either one, with 156 (Jeter 734, Pujols 321). Ruth hit his 15 homers in 167 plate appearances.
Beltran has been asked to explain his historic prowess in October for going on 10 years now, and he said after Thursday's game that it comes down to opportunity meeting preparation.
"For me, it's simple," Beltran said. "For me, it's God giving me the opportunity to play in meaningful games, and hard work through the years. I think as a ballplayer, you always dream to be able to play in postseason games and try to win a World Series. You know, there is no other explanation."
An All-Star for the eighth time this year, Beltran burst onto the postseason scene with the Astros in 2004, belting eight homers and collecting 14 RBIs in 12 games. He continued his success in 2006 with the Mets -- with the exception of a called third strike against Wainwright to end Game 7 of the NL Championship Series, in which he hit three homers. Last year, Beltran brought his October success to the Cardinals, going 15-for-42 (.357) with three homers, six doubles and six RBIs.
Through Thursday, Beltran is the all-time postseason leader in slugging (.783) and OPS (1.253), ranking sixth in history and first among actives in on-base percentage (.470).
"He's like our secret weapon when it comes to the postseason," Carpenter said. "He steps up every time. You can look at his career numbers and see that. Some guys just have a knack for those big games, and he's definitely one of them."
The general consensus among his teammates as to why Beltran is able to handle the October spotlight so well is that he carries himself the same way he does in the first days of the season.
"He's as level as they come from April 1 all the way through the postseason," Cardinals shortstop Daniel Descalso said. "I don't know what it is about October. It seems like he's an impossible out. But he has the same demeanor from [the first game of the regular season] through the postseason."
A big part of that presence is felt away from the field, in the corner of the clubhouse, where Beltran can often be found holding court with younger players, talking about the finer points of the game.
"He's a teacher," Cards manager Mike Matheny said. "I mean, he loves the game. He's passionate about it. He's passionate about teaching his teammates some of the things that he's learned. He's been an incredible, incredible asset to this club, especially helping our young players develop."
Showing them the way in October is a big part of what Beltran has delivered for the Cardinals, and once again, he did so in historic fashion Thursday night.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less