Boom! Beltre's big game knocks out Rays
October, 4, 2011
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
If you were watching the game on television, as I was, you were probably on the edge of your seat for Adrian Beltre's at-bat in the eighth inning. Beltre had a chance to make postseason history as the first player to hit four home runs in a game.
It didn't happen, as Beltre flew out routinely to right field on a 1-0 pitch, but his three solo home runs led the Rangers to a series-clinching 4-3 victory over Tampa Bay. I'll be sad to see the scrappy, Cinderella Rays go home, and they fought hard down to the bottom of the ninth when they brought the go-ahead run to the plate, but I'm happy Beltre had a shining moment in the national spotlight.
Beltre has been a terrific -- if imperfect -- player in his career. But many fans have viewed him as a disappointment, especially in Seattle, after the Mariners signed him to a big free-agent contract following his monster 2004 season with the Dodgers, and he was never able to replicate that .334, 48-homer season. But with the Mariners, I liked that he always played hard, played great defense (recognized with Gold Glove awards in 2007 and 2008) and hit for power in a tough park for right-handed pull hitters.
After a year in Boston where he compiled his best numbers since 2004, the Rangers signed him to play third base. The signing was controversial, not because of Beltre's abilities but because it left Michael Young without a position. In the end, it all worked out. Young filled in at DH and around the infield while contending for the AL batting crown, and Beltre loved hitting in The Ballpark in Arlington -- he hit .326/.372/.706 at home with 23 of his 32 home runs, compared to .271/.297/.440 on the road.
Beltre had missed the end of July and all of August with a hamstring strain, but he tore it up in September, hitting .374 with 12 home runs. Yes, if his bat remains hot, it becomes impossible to pitch around anybody in the middle of that lineup. So while he missed that fourth home run, he did join this list, just the seventh time a player has hit three home runs in a postseason game:
Babe Ruth, Yankees, Game 4, 1926 World Series
Babe Ruth, Yankees, Game 4, 1928 World Series
Bob Robertson, Pirates, Game 2, 1971 NLCS
Reggie Jackson, Yankees, Game 6, 1977 World Series
George Brett, Royals, Game 3, 1978 ALCS
Adam Kennedy, Angels, Game 5, 2002 ALCS
As we also saw on Tuesday, the Rangers' deep bullpen will be a problem for their ALCS opponent.
I thought manager Ron Washington did a great job handling the Texas staff on Tuesday. Matt Harrison had thrown 97 pitches through five innings with nine punchouts, and with Johnny Damon leading off the sixth, he certainly could have left Harrison in for at least one more batter. Washington likes to bring his relievers in to start innings, and rather than react to something bad happening -- Harrison allowing Damon to reach base -- he acted, bringing in another lefty, Game 2 starter Derek Holland. And rather than overreacting to Mike Adams' poor outing in Game 3, he brought him right back. As always, the players have to perform, but I liked the moves Washington made.
Neftali Feliz makes things a little nervous in the ninth -- he did blow six saves this season -- and that may be cause for concern, but for now, the Rangers are rolling. They can hit, they play good defense, they have versatility in their lineup and they have the deepest bullpen in the playoffs, with a good mix of lefties and righties in both the rotation and 'pen.
Whether they face the Tigers or Yankees, I think a lot of people will pick the Rangers to advance to their second straight World Series.
Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.