Beltran clutch in Game 1, in search of elusive ring

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Carlos Beltran hit a walk-off single to score Matt Carpenter in the 13th inning. (Photo: Scott Rovak, USA TODAY Sports)ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Cardinals, who realize that Carlos Beltran may be departing as a free agent, better hurry and erect that statue of him outside Busch Stadium if they want an appropriate going-away gift.
Beltran absolutely stole the show Friday night in the Cardinals' breathtaking 3-2, 13-inning victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series that left their fans and own players gasping for breath.
Well, maybe all but one guy.
Carlos Beltran, the man of the hour.
"We joke that you have to put a mirror under his nose," said Cardinals infielder Pete Descalso, who scored the game-winning run on Beltran's single, "and check see if he's breathing. He's so calm, cool and relaxed.
"It's like Jazz music is playing in his head out there. He's so even keel. Nothing gets to him. If you're an elite player, and you got that kind of mindset, you see what happens."
Indeed, he won the game Friday with his bat. His glove. And his arm.
Beltran pulled off the trifecta in one 4-hour, 47-minute clinic, leaving everyone searching for adjectives to describe his brilliance.
"That was a classic," Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt said. "What a game. And how about Carlos? I don't even know what to say, but, 'Wow!' "
The Cardinals had little time to celebrate, with Game 2 scheduled at Busch Stadium just 15 hours later, but they now have memories that will last forever.
"That's one of the best postseason performances," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, "I've ever ever seen."
It may turn out to be the game that brings the Cardinals their third World Series title in eight years.
"I really want to win it for Carlos," Cardinals All-Star catcher Yadier Molina said, "but I want to win it for me, too."
Beltran, 36, who has never been to the World Series in his career, is doing everything humanly possible to make sure that drought ends.
Let's see, where do we start?
He drove in the game-winning run with a one-out single off Kenley Jansen, scoring Descalso from second base with his line drive into the right-field corner.
"I just wanted to make sure," Descalso said, "I didn't trip and fall and break an ankle running around third so I can get home safely.
"And then find Carlos."
He's the one that even got the Cardinals into extra innings, hitting a two-run double in the third inning off Dodgers starter Zack Greinke, while his teammates managed just two hits for the next nine innings.
"He's basically built a résumé as probably the greatest postseason player of all time," Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis said. "Then you compound that when you give him two 3-1 counts to hit in. He's a guy who knows what to do with pitches in the strike zone in those situations."
And he was the one who saved the game in the 10th inning, gunning down Mark Ellis at the plate on a fly ball to medium-depth right field. It was the first time since Game 6 of the 1975 World Series that a player turned a double play, throwing a runner out at the plate in a postseason extra inning game.
"Once I caught it," Beltran said, "I was hoping to make a good throw to home. Thank God I did that."
The man did everything but sell peanuts and pour beer at Busch Stadium.
"I'm aware of what I have done," Beltran said, "but at the end of the day, understand this is not about me. This is about the team. I thank God that we were able to come out with the win."
The Cardinals may not have him longer than this month, but they thank their lucky stars they got him now, savoring every last moment.
Beltran, their postseason one-man wrecking crew, will be a free agent in three weeks, and surely will attract the kind of interest that will create a bidding war.
It just won't involve the Cardinals.
The Cardinals will graciously thank Beltran for his services, and would like nothing more than to give him a parting gift that he will forever cherish.
But what if the guest of honor spoils the surprise and brings the best gift for himself?
"The guy is amazing, unbelievable," Descalso said. "He just finds another gear in October. You watch him every day during the season, and the things he does, it's unbelievable.
"I don't know how to explain it. You've got to want to be in those big spots, with the game on the line, and you have to embrace it. He does a great job with that, and not let the situation overwhelm him."
And if the Cardinals are going to win a World Series, well, Beltran is sure helping out on the delivery process.
"When you come through and you're able to help the team win," Beltran said, "that's what it's all about"
The game was an instant classic that soon will find its place on the Cardinals' Jumbotron, right alongside Ozzie Smith, Jack Clark and Bob Gibson.
It was the longest game in NLCS history, lasting 4 hours and 47 minutes, and continued the Cardinals' streak of not losing an extra-inning postseason game since Game 1 of the 1946 World Series.
"It's crazy, almost towards the end," Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter said, "you kind of forget that you're in a playoff game when it lasts that long. You're running on fumes out there.
"But we know what was at stake."
It was a game in which Beltran is the first player in league postseason history to record an outfield assist and a walk-off RBI in extra innings, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It was not only Beltran's first walk-off hit in the postseason, but in any game since 2008.
It was just a continuation of his October magic. The man is hitting .345 in the postseason with 16 homers and 34 RBI, passing Babe Ruth in homers and tied with Fred McGriff for the fifth-most RBI in National League postseason history.
He was so extraordinary this night that he even saved his center-field teammate Jon Jay of being the goat of the game.
Jay, who struggled at the plate and on the basepaths, misplayed a 10th-inning single by Mark Ellis into a triple. Cardinals reliever Trevor Rosenthal was forced to internationally walk Hanley Ramirez, bringing up Michael Young. Young hit a fly ball to medium-depth right-center field. Beltran called for the ball, and Jay peeled off.
Beltran set up for the throw, caught the ball, wheeled, and fired. It was a perfect one-hopper to catcher Yadier Molina. The ball was waiting for Ellis when he slid into the plate.
Molina pumped his arm once, and then again, sending the 46,691 fans at Busch Stadium into delirium.
Yes, this was Beltran's party, and everyone was invited.
It's nothing new for Beltran, who has turned October into his own personal playground.
"The numbers don't lie," Carpenter said. "He's Mr. Playoff."
Yet, the only stat that matters to Beltran is that ring, and his hand remains empty.
"It's all I want," Beltran said. "That's what every player wants. That's why I play this game, to get to the World Series, and win it.
"I'm running out of time."
Beltran, 36, still has a few years left, but there's no guarantee he'll be back in the playoffs, let alone be on a team that makes October an annual passage.
This is his time.
He knows it.
His teammates know it.
Now, they just need to get past the Dodgers to give him that opportunity.
"The reason I signed here was because of the tradition this organization has and being able to consistently go to the playoffs," Beltran said. "It was fun last year. It's fun this year.
"There are so many players who haven't been to the playoffs, so I feel fortunate."
Twice, Beltran has been to Game 7 of the NLCS.
Twice, he has lost.
Now, they are three games away from Beltran's first World Series.
"God is giving me the opportunity to play in meaningful games and hard work through the years," Beltran said. "I think as a ballplayer, you always dream to be able to play in postseason games and try to win a World Series.

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