BOSTON -- Carlos Beltran waited 16 years and more than 2,000 Major League games for a World Series debut that lasted all of two innings.
The Cardinals right fielder suffered what general manager John Mozeliak termed a severe right rib bruise while making a wall-banging, grand slam-robbing catch in the bottom of the second inning of what would end up being an 8-1 loss to the Red Sox in Game 1 on Wednesday. Beltran exited in the third inning and was transported to a local hospital for further tests. His status for the remainder of the World Series is very much in question.
The good news for the Cardinals was that Beltran's X-rays and a CT scan were negative. The bad news for the Cards was that they ended the night with little idea whether their most proven postseason hitter, their emotional beacon during this deep October run, will be able to play Game 2 of the Fall Classic on Thursday night (6:30 p.m. CT air time on FOX, 7:07 first pitch).
"I haven't even spoken with him yet," Mozeliak said in the moments following a loss which, Beltran's play aside, was marred by subpar defense. "So to leverage my hope, based on how he feels and what the trainers are telling me, we are somewhat optimistic."
It was a painful end to one terrific play. Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright was struggling for the second straight inning, facing a bases-loaded, one-out jam with a run already across in the frame and dangerous David Ortiz at the plate. Ortiz ignited the Fenway Park crowd with a fly ball to deep right field, where Beltran crashed hard into the low wall and reached over to take away a grand slam.
Ortiz and the Red Sox settled for a sacrifice fly and a 5-0 lead.
"Wow, nice play, man," Ortiz said. "Hopefully, he's doing well."
Did Ortiz think he'd just hit a grand slam in the World Series?
"Of course," Ortiz said.
The play was reminiscent of the Tigers' Torii Hunter's less-successful attempt on an Ortiz drive near the same spot in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Hunter tumbled over the fence, a Boston police officer famously celebrated, and Ortiz had a tying grand slam in what would end up being a 6-5 Red Sox victory.
Losing Beltran would be a significant blow for the Cardinals, both because he is one of the best postseason hitters in history (.337 average, 16 home runs and 37 RBIs in 45 career playoff games entering this World Series), and because the Cards have openly used his long quest as motivation for getting this far.
While Mozeliak had not spoken to Beltran himself, he had heard from others that Beltran "was a little down right now."
The GM was a little down, too.
"Obviously, you want to see your club at full strength," Mozeliak said. "You don't want to go into this thing where you lose somebody early on. We'll just have to see. Hopefully, he'll be ready to go."
If Beltran is not ready, the Cardinals would probably start Shane Robinson in right field, and Jon Jay, who was left out of the Game 1 starting lineup and is struggling this month, in center.
"Obviously, he is a big contributor to our team, and it's tough when somebody goes down like that," Robinson said. "But we can't make any excuses for it. We're just going to fill in for him. ... I'm sure he wants to get in there, being his first World Series. If it happens to be my name is called, I'll be ready."
What would losing Beltran mean to the Cards' quest?
"It would mean a lot," catcher Yadier Molina said. "Losing a guy like Carlos, losing a bat, losing a player like him, it's going to be [a challenge]. ... Any time you lose a guy like him, it's tough, but hopefully he comes tomorrow and goes through the tests and we can keep him in the lineup."
Beltran was not available in the cramped-and-quiet visitors' clubhouse, but he has spoken over the past week about what it means to finally reach baseball's biggest stage after losing seven games previously, from the 2004 Astros to the 2006 Mets to the 2012 Cardinals to Game 5 of this year's NLCS, in which a victory meant a trip to the World Series.
After the Cards beat the Dodgers last week to advance to the Fall Classic, Beltran savored the moment.
"I feel like a winner right now, actually," he said amid the champagne celebration. "Being able to turn the page and get to this position, I feel like a winner. Only God knows the result, but at the end of the day, I know we're going to fight, we're going to battle, we're going to compete hard and we're going to try to get it done.
"Win or not, I can say that I was there."