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Carlos Beltran does it again

10/12/2013

ST. LOUIS -- They knew, sooner or later, that Carlos Beltran would figure out something.

Maybe in the ninth inning. Maybe in the 11th. Maybe in the 13th. Maybe in the 27th.

Maybe at 2 o'clock in the morning. Maybe around dawn. Maybe sometime before lunch the next day.

But sooner or later, the St. Louis Cardinals knew, Carlos Beltran would do that Mr. October thing he does so well.

Maybe he would whomp a walk-off homer off The Arch. Maybe he would draw a game-winning, 34-pitch, bases-loaded walk. Maybe he would find a way to dribble a 15-hop single up the middle.

But whatever. He could fill in the details later. The calendar said it was the second week of October. A classic postseason baseball game had reeled to the wrong side of midnight. No one seemed to be able to find a way to score the run that would send nearly 47,000 people off into the night to resume their regularly scheduled lives.

So of course Carlos Beltran would find a way to win this thing. Are you familiar with his work? Who else was going to end this epic Game 1 NLCS tussle? You were expecting maybe Ozzie Smith?

And so, as Beltran strode toward home plate with two Cardinals on base in the 13th inning Friday night -- or make that Saturday morning -- his weary teammate Matt Carpenter had no doubt.

"Deep down," he said, "I knew that somehow, some way, he was going to drive that run in.

Which he did, naturally. On a 13th-inning laser beam down the right-field line. At 12:25 a.m. on the Busch Stadium clock.

And there we were again, watching those made-for-October Cardinals pulling out another miraculous postseason marathon -- a 3-2 win over the Dodgers in a game that will go down in the books as just the second Game 1 of any series, in the history of October baseball, to last 13 or more innings.

And there we were again, watching a man who has taken over October the way Santa Claus takes over December, write yet another unforgettable chapter in his never-ending saga of postseason heroics.

"I'm so glad he's on my team right now," Yadier Molina would say of Carlos Beltran when his latest masterpiece was complete. "That guy is unbelievable."

Ab-so-frigging-lutely. Un-be-lieve-able. This man has had so many spectacular October baseball games, they almost begin to blend into one another. But someday, when he looks back on them from his rocking chair, this will have to rank up there with Beltran's greatest ever:

A two-out, two-run, game-tying double in the third inning that would give the Cardinals the only two runs they would score off Zack Greinke, on a night when Greinke became the first pitcher to strike out 10 Cardinals in a postseason game since Denny Galehouse did it in 1944 -- 177 postseason games ago ...

A picturesque throw from right-center field to nail the go-ahead run at the plate in the 10th inning -- that would both save this game and make Beltran the first outfielder in the 21st century to throw out a runner at the plate in extra innings of a postseason game ...

And then the ultimate moment for his October highlight reel -- the game-winning hit, in the 13th, off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, a fellow who had allowed just two hits to the previous 28 hitters he'd faced, who hadn't permitted an inherited runner to score since May 31 (stranding eight in a row) and who had given up exactly one previous walk-off hit in his entire four-year career.

Ho-hum. What else is new?

"At the end of the day," Beltran would say later, "understand this is not about me. This is about the team. In order for a team to win a ballgame, a lot of things need to happen right, the right way. We have to pitch. We have to play defense. And we have to come through offensively. Thank god it seems like I've been able to do that, too."

Yeah, you might say that. In so many of his 40 visits to Postseason Theater, he has been there, done whatever. But not like this.

This was the first walk-off hit of Carlos Beltran's postseason career, believe it or not. True story. And it was his first walk-off hit of any kind since 2008. Yeah, really.

And you know that amazing throw he made? It represented the first time he'd thrown out a runner at the plate, after catching a fly ball, since Sept. 11, 2007. No kidding. He'd recorded just four outfield assists all season, his fewest in four years. Honest.

And how many outfielders in history had both driven in a walk-off run and recorded an outfield assist in extra innings of the same postseason game before Beltran did it Friday night? Not a one. Of course.

But that's just how the man with the greatest postseason slugging percentage of all time rolls. Much to the never-ending astonishment of the men he plays with.

"The guy just finds another gear in October," said the man who scored the winning run in this game, Daniel Descalso.

And where, Descalso was asked, could the rest of us locate that gear?

"I don't know," Descalso replied. "But I'd like to find it."

"You know, we always joke about him," Carpenter said with a laugh, "that we've got to put a monitor under his nose and check if he's breathing. He's so calm and relaxed in those situations, it's like he's got jazz music playing in his head."

"

Descalso The guy just finds another gear in October.

"-- Cardinals infielder Daniel Descalso

Well, if he had jazz music playing in his head in this game, there's an excellent chance it was a stirring rendition of "Round Midnight," because this was a game that just about refused to end.

It was the longest National League postseason game (by innings) since the Astros and Braves played their record-setting 17-inning NLDS marathon in 2004. It was the third-longest NLCS game ever played, trailing only that 16-inning Mets-Astros classic in 1986 and a 15-inning Mets-Braves donnybrook in 1999.

It was the Dodgers' longest postseason game since the 1916 World Series (16 innings). It was the Cardinals' longest postseason game ever. And it was the Cardinals' first postseason walk-off win against the Dodgers since the fabled Ozzie Smith "Go Crazy, Folks" game in 1985.

But that merely sets the scene. Now let's recap just some of the wild-and-crazy highlights:

• The Dodgers might have had a tough time scoring more than two runs in this game (on a two-run Juan Urbe single in the third), but they were extremely resourceful about finding ways not to score. They left 11 runners on base, went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, had at least one baserunner in nine of the first 12 innings and ended five of those nine innings with either a strikeout or a double play.

• The Cardinals, on the other hand, seemed as if they went hours without threatening to score. Between Beltran's two-run double in the third inning and the game-winning rally in the 13th, they got exactly three hits (all singles) and moved just one runner into scoring position (and only did that thanks to back-to-back walks by Brian Wilson with two outs in the ninth).

• Greinke was brilliant -- for all but a three-batter stretch in the third inning. He retired the first eight hitters and whiffed four of them, then gave up a single to the pitcher (Joe Kelly), a walk to Carpenter and Beltran's two-run double all in a span of 12 pitches. Other than that, Greinke gave up just two hits in eight innings and struck out 10, making him only the third pitcher ever to punch out 10 Cardinals in a postseason game. (The others, Galehouse and Jack Kramer, both did it for the St. Louis Browns in the 1944 World Series.)

Yasiel Puig might have gone 0-for-6, but he did make a fabulous running catch in right-center and turned it into a 9-3 double play at first base. It was his second double play like that just in this postseason and his 10th assist since arriving in the big leagues on June 3, the third-most among all right fielders in baseball since then.

• And then there was Dodgers manager Don Mattingly's eminently second-guessable decision to yank his cleanup hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, for pinch-runner Dee Gordon in the eighth inning only to have Gordon get wiped out on a force at second just three pitches later.

That meant the Dodgers had to play the rest of the night without their cleanup hitter, Gonzalez, which led to two intentional walks of Hanley Ramirez followed by two inning-ending double plays by Gonzalez's replacement, Michael Young. Mattingly's explanation afterward on using Gordon there: "You've got to shoot your bullet when you get a chance."

OK, so: Ready, aim … oops!

But all that just made for the dramatic buildup to the Carlos Beltran Extra Innings Show. First, came The Throw, set up by a one-out Mark Ellis triple that Jay admitted afterward he'd badly misplayed.

Hey, but not to worry. Young then lofted a fly ball to medium-deep right-center that is often, on many teams, the center fielder's ball. But Jay heard Beltran coming, knew immediately which of them had the better arm, moved out of the way and said with a chuckle later: "It was all his."

Beltran then gathered in the baseball, unleashed a textbook, one-hop throw home and let Molina grab it, block the plate and do the rest. There were questions afterward about whether Molina had actually tagged Ellis in their collision. But when asked about that later, Molina said, emphatically, "He was out."

All righty then. But that was only the 10th inning. And this game was far from over.

But with one out in the 13th inning, Descalso looped a pinch-hit single into center field, after waiting around for 4½ hours for a chance to play. Then Carpenter worked a gritty four-pitch walk off reliever Chris Withrow -- and sprinted down the line to first at pretty much full speed, a la Pete Rose, clapping his hands all the way because he knew who was up next.

"That's about the most excited you'll ever see me after a walk," Carpenter quipped.

Mattingly then headed for the mound, made one of those rarified 13th-inning double-switches and waved for his closer, as 7 million Dodgers fans muttered, "'Bout time."

But Jansen couldn't outmaneuver Mr. October. The count went to 3-1. The ballpark rocked back to life. Jansen rubbed up the baseball behind the mound. Beltran waited in the box, waving his bat. Every player on both benches moved to the top step of the dugout. This felt like The Moment.

And it was. Jansen served up a cutter, knee-high, right down the middle.

"Right down the middle, [but] I don't blame him," Beltran said, "because he's trying to make a pitch. He's behind in the count, and he's trying to make a pitch."

Ah, but he was making it to the wrong man at the wrong time -- in the wrong month. Beltran smoked this one into the right-field corner. And Descalso sprinted madly around third base, thinking, "I just need to make sure I don't trip and fall and break my arm, so I can score this run."

Well, he didn't trip. And he didn't fall. His arm did stay out of a cast. And he scored the run that gave the Cardinals their first walk-off postseason win since The David Freese Game in the 2011 World Series.

And Carlos Beltran had done it again. Hey, of course he had. So if Reggie Jackson was Mr. October, what the heck is this guy?

"I don't know. Mr. Playoffs?" Carpenter suggested. "I just know the numbers don't lie. And they tell you what this guy has done. When you have an elite player like he is, and he's got just the right mindset like he has, this is what happens. He does special things in the postseason. Every single year."