BOSTON -- Thursday began as days tend to begin, with Carlos Beltran waking up. And when he woke up, he felt a bit better than he had the night before.
But this is all relative, you must understand, because the feeling the night before, when his body slammed into Fenway Park's right-field fence in a remarkably smooth but physically damaging rob of Red Sox slugger David Ortiz's would-be grand slam in Game 1 of the World Series, was pure pain. It required a hospital visit, some X-rays, a CT scan, all of which turned out all right but none of which convinced Beltran he would be anything other than a spectator in Game 2 of his long-awaited first Fall Classic.
"I had very little hope," Beltran said, "that I was going to be in the lineup with the way I felt."
How did he feel, exactly? Well, Beltran, soft-spoken as he is, isn't one to let us into that little detail. But Cardinals hitting coach John Mabry dealt with some rib injuries during his playing days and had a pretty decent idea of what was going down.
"You know one of those triangle-sized paint scrapers?" Mabry said. "It feels like somebody stabbing you with one of those."
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that for Beltran to even take the field Thursday night was a surprise. And for him to come through with a pair of hits -- one of which resulted in a huge insurance run in the seventh inning of the Cards' Series-evening 4-2 victory over the Red Sox -- was a shock.
Or was it?
"His name is Carlos Beltran," Mabry said. "He's watching video of you watching video. Haven't you seen that commercial?"
Ah, yes, that ESPN spot some months back did a fine job of articulating what a special hitter Beltran is, and this October has seemingly cemented his standing among the game's all-time postseason greats.
Understand, though, that modern medicine played its part in Beltran's unexpectedly electric evening. No, he didn't rub down his ribs with some of that magic green rosin that apparently helps Jon Lester when he's sweating like a pig, but Beltran did get a shot of Toradol, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory that is an alternative to cortisone. It's a legal substance not banned by MLB.
"Basically they gave me an injection to kind of block the pain for five hours or six hours," Beltran said. "I know for sure [Friday] I'm going to feel sore. The good thing is [Friday] I have the day off, and I've got the opportunity to get treatment, and hopefully Saturday I feel better than what I feel today."
So, no, Beltran wouldn't have been able to take the field without some sort of medical intervention, and that intervention allowed him to showcase his pure strength and skill as a hitter, which remains utterly remarkable.
"Carlos is such a pro, you know," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He knows how to handle when he doesn't feel completely 100 percent, which he probably hasn't felt since February. But he's the kind of guy that knows how to make the best of what he has."
Beltran arrived to the ballpark and was not a participant in the Cards' on-field batting practice. In the indoor cages, though, he took as many swings -- Mabry wouldn't say how many -- as he saw fit to prepare for the task at hand and prove he was physically capable to perform, at some level.
"I feel like I was swinging the bat OK," Beltran said. "Not good, but good enough to be able to go out there and be with the guys."
"Even if he is compromised," Mabry said, "Carlos Beltran at 75 percent or 50 percent is still a dangerous Carlos Beltran."
Beltran proved it right off the bat, with the bat. He worked John Lackey to a 3-1 count in the first, then punched a line-drive single to left.
That base hit didn't result in a run, but another fine piece of hitting in the seventh did. The Cardinals had just rallied off Craig Breslow to take a 3-2 lead on a crazy play prompted by Matt Carpenter's sacrifice fly. Breslow's throwing error had allowed a second run to score and Daniel Descalso to advance to third, and so Beltran came to the plate with a runner in scoring position, a scenario in which he entered the night batting an absurd .750 with 10 RBIs.
Make it 11 RBIs. Beltran again got the count to 3-1, then slapped a two-seamer to the opposite field in right to score Descalso and make it 4-2, the score that would hold in the hands of the Cards' bullish bullpen.
Toradol or not, Beltran's teammates marvel at the will to win and the desire, now 16 years into what could very well be a Hall of Fame career, that defines Beltran on a day-to-day basis. He's been so close to this World Series stage so many times that it was going to take more than the searing pain of paint scrapers to keep him from doing everything he could to be out there.
"He's going to have to have something really wrong to not be out there," sidelined reliever Jason Motte said. "We're talking bones sticking out.
There were many elements that went into this win for the Cardinals, but Beltran's performance still stuck out, because the truth is the Cards came to the park with no earthly idea whether or not he'd actually play.
He did play, and he contributed. And for that, you could credit modern medicine and Carlos Beltran being Carlos Beltran.