Adrian Beltre, patient Rangers execute late

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
11:16
PM CT
ARLINGTON, Texas -- It’s a close game, nearly at the crescendo of nervous energy and pressure-filled moments, and there’s Adrian Beltre, standing in the batter's box.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Beltre
Jim Cowsert/USA TODAY SportsAdrian Beltre says he "likes the challenge" of being in close and late situations. On Tuesday night against the Phillies, he got two such opportunities -- delivering in both.
And that's when you'll see that slight smile, just before he steps in and stares out at the mound. It’s as if he knows what's about to happen next, despite the pitcher being the one with the baseball in his hand. It's as if Beltre is seizing control, even before the ball is thrown.

"In those situations, I feel comfortable," said Beltre, reeking of beer as part of the club's walk-off celebratory shower. "I feel comfortable because I believe that I can do it. I like the challenge."

He was in that position twice in Monday's 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies. Both times, Beltre delivered. It seemed like the 29,530 in attendance knew he would, too, standing in anticipation of a game-defining swat.

It's worth pointing out that neither opportunity would have happened without Shin-Soo Choo's ability to get on base. Choo was waiting at third base with two outs in the seventh when Beltre came up with the Texas Rangers down one. The cleanup hitter belted an 0-1 slider to right field to score the tying run.

After the bullpen did its job -- manager Ron Washington had his late-inning arms stacked the way he wanted in a close game with Jason Frasor, Neal Cotts and Joakim Soria pitching 3 ⅓ scoreless innings -- Beltre got another chance in the ninth.

With one out and two on, including Choo, of course, at second base, Beltre waited patiently while the Phillies changed pitchers, opting for righty B.J. Rosenberg. Beltre got a 1-1 two-seamer and drove it to right center, touching off a head-beating celebration. Beltre hates having his head touched. His teammates haven't cared since he got to Texas in 2011, so why should they change now?

No one in the big leagues was better in the "close and late" situations than Beltre last season. The "close and late" stat tracks how a batter performs in the seventh inning or later with his team ahead by a run, tied or with the tying run on base, at-bat or on deck. Beltre hit a whopping .416 (37-for-89) in those instances in 2013, with six extra-base hits and 14 RBIs.

"That's what he does; he just gets big hits for us," Washington said. "He's been playing the game long enough, I don't think there is anything that can happen on the ball field that he hasn't already experienced. He knows exactly what he's doing."

No wonder Prince Fielder was smiling when the game ended. Beltre is the guy who's protecting him.

Give Fielder credit for not trying to do too much in the ninth. The Rangers traded All-Star second baseman Ian Kinsler -- who will not go down as a prophet after Tuesday's win ended any chance of his hopes for an 0-162 season from Texas -- to get Fielder and help their offensive production at critical junctures. But with Beltre behind him, Fielder knew he didn't have to do it by himself.

"You can only do it if you get a good pitch to do it on," Fielder said. "I don't want to swing at anything. I want to be selective."

Fielder never got the pitch he wanted, so he gladly took a walk and passed the opportunity to Beltre.

"He's an outstanding hitter," Fielder said. "That's what good teams do. It's not just one guy or two guys, it's the whole lineup. It's definitely exciting that he's behind me."

Not so exciting for opposing pitchers, however.

The Phillies discovered that on Tuesday. When it comes to the biggest at-bats in the close games, Beltre wants to take the swing. Even if it means he'll get his head rubbed.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Adrian Beltre
BA HR RBI R
.324 19 77 79
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Beltre 19
RBIA. Beltre 77
RA. Beltre 79
OPSA. Beltre .879
WC. Lewis 10
ERAC. Lewis 5.18
SOY. Darvish 182