NEW YORK -- Old-Timers' Weekend started a little early -- and in style.
If 37-year-old Carlos Beltran is ever going to be invited back as a Yankees great, it will mean there were more moments like Friday night's ninth inning. After the Yankees had failed all evening in the clutch, Beltran came through with perhaps the season's biggest hit, a no-doubt-about-it, game-ending three-run shot.
It turned a two-run ninth inning deficit into a a 5-3 New York Yankees' win over the Baltimore Orioles. It was the Yankees' fourth in a row against their two main competitors in the AL East. They are a season-high six games over .500. Helped by big hits from Brett Gardner and Brian McCann, the Yankees had their first walk-off comeback of the season.
"They found a way to get it done and that is what you have to do if you want to play in October," manager Joe Girardi said.
Despite his Adam Wainwright (from his Mets days) legacy, Beltran is the type of guy you want up in October or any clutch spot, beginning in April.
His playoff history is nearly immaculate with an utterly ridiculous 1.128 OPS in 51 games. If he had spent his entire career doing that and winning championships with the Yankees, he would rival Derek Jeter in popularity.
"He's been in it so many times," Girardi said. "He's been in it in big stages, postseason. We all know what he has done in the postseason. He is not going to try and do too much. He is used to the situation."
At times in 2014, Beltran has looked more like he should be playing in Sunday's Old-Timers' Day game than the real ones. Slowed by a bone spur in his elbow, he entered Friday as a .221 hitter. But there have been signs he is feeling better. He nailed a double to lead off the second and has been squaring up balls a little better.
"When you feel good, you want to be in that spot," Beltran said. "When you don't feel good, you don't want to be in that spot."
Zach Britton has been very tough this season. He has forced grounders at an alarming rate. Before Beltran's shot, he had give up only one homer in 37 2/3 innings. Beltran knew this and said he was just trying to hit a ball up the middle to tie the score.
McCann, another free-agent signing showing some life this week, acted as Beltran's wingman, singling home a run to set up Beltran's dramatic moment.
"I just felt confident I was going to do something positive," Beltran said. "I know he is a tough pitcher. He has a lot of movement. I just told myself to get something up in the strike zone. Once I was 2-1, that is a hitter's count. I know I had to be aggressive."
He worked it to 3-1 and then Britton fired a 96 mph high fastball, but Beltran was too quick. He connected and launched it over the left-field wall. Acting like a man who has been there before, he simply slapped his hands together before he reached first.
It was the eighth career game-ending homer for Beltran. In doing so, he joined Darryl Strawberry as the only players to nail walkoffs for the Yankees and the Mets.
The Yankees' dugout spilled onto the field, led by a smiling and clapping Jeter. Before Beltran reached home, Beltran removed his helmet as his teammates circled him and jumped up and down.
He would go on to do a TV interview with Meredith Marakovits on MY9. Gardner sneaked behind them and did his best Harry Carson impersonation, dumping Gatorade over Beltran's head.
It felt good for the Yankees. They had failed all night in the clutch, leaving the bases loaded to end three different innings. But now, they had a guy they wanted to count on, again and again, standing in the middle of it all, basking in the joy of his late-game ability.
"It gives you confidence late in games that you have the ability to do it," Girardi said. "We've done it as the visitor a number of times and won some extra innings games that way. This stuff can become contagious. I saw it happen a lot in 2009 where it started and it seemed like we had 10 or 12 of those. That's how you win a lot of games."