Switch-hitting veteran's October dominance continues in Game 1 of NLCS
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FRANCISCO -- Lance Berkman shrugs his shoulders when someone mentions that Carlos Beltran is bashing his way through another postseason.
Berkman has seen it before.
The two were Houston Astros teammates in 2004, when Beltran produced a postseason for the ages, blasting four home runs in a National League Division Series against the Braves and four more in the NL Championship Series against the Cardinals, and carrying the Astros to within a win of the World Series.
Now 35 and a Cardinal himself, it appears Beltran is doing it again. His two-out, two-run home run in the fourth inning of Game 1 of the 2012 NLCS on Sunday gave St. Louis a 6-0 lead, and stood as the winning blow when the Cards' bullpen quieted a Giants comeback for a 6-4 win to open the best-of-seven series.
It stirred some good memories for Berkman.
"He was on fire then, kind of like he is now," Berkman said. "And not just getting hits, but hitting home runs. When a guy like that gets hot as opposed to a [Daniel] Descalso ... no offense, but Danny's going to hit a home run or two, but when Carlos gets hot, he's going to hit five or six."
Beltran is making history with his latest power binge:
Carlos in charge
Best percentage of home runs per at-bats in postseason history
Beltran has already belted three home runs in the first seven games of this postseason, and he has 14 home runs in 29 career postseason games. Only eight players have more than 14 postseason homers: Manny Ramirez (29), Bernie Williams (22), Derek Jeter (20), Reggie Jackson, Mickey Mantle and Albert Pujols (18 apiece), Jim Thome (17) and a one-time Yankee named Babe Ruth (15). All of them played in at least 41 postseason games.
Beltran became the 11th player to hit 14 postseason home runs, and only three others -- Jeter, Pujols and Ruth -- owned a .300 batting average or better to go with that power. Beltran's .370 average (40-for-108) is the highest, by far, among that group.
Beltran's .824 postseason slugging percentage is the best in baseball history for hitters with at least 75 playoff at-bats.
Beltran has a home run for every 7.71 postseason at-bats, the best rate in baseball history for qualifying players and nearly a full at-bat better than Ruth, who is second at 8.60.
"You know what, when I got traded to the Astros and I got an opportunity to be in the playoffs [in 2004], I was so happy, I never experienced anything like it, to be able to play in meaningful games and try to win a championship," Beltran said. "And I was so excited, I just saw the guys playing the game and I just told myself, 'Just go out there and have fun. Don't try to do too much.' And that's what I told myself. And I went out there and good things happened for me."
"It's hard for me to explain this production," Beltran said. "I'm just enjoying myself. I don't feel the pressure. I don't feel like I need to do something special. I just feel like I need to go out there and play the game the right way and let things happen."
They happened during the 2012 regular season to the tune of 32 home runs and 97 RBIs, Beltran's best output since 2008 with the Mets. Beltran split 2011 between the Mets and Giants, and he said San Francisco never made an effort to re-sign him last winter in free agency.
The Cardinals pounced, convincing Beltran to take a two-year, $26 million contract just before Christmas and after Albert Pujols had signed his 10-year megadeal with the Angels.
"When we were looking to put this club together, we knew we had to find an offensive element," Cards general manager John Mozeliak said. "One of the things that was attractive is [Beltran] was a switch-hitter, and we felt that would fit well into our lineup, either in the two-hole or the four of five.
"Really, it was bringing offense to a club that knew we had to replace it after we lost Albert."
Beltran's postseason resume was a bonus.
"He's one of those guys that seems to get hot at the right time," Mozeliak said.
Beltran is hot again after a cold second half. He batted .211 and slugged .394 in August before boosting his average to .280, and his slugging percentage to .483 in September/October. Mozeliak said the finish, "gave us some hope."
Old teammate Berkman noted that Beltran did the same thing in 2004, going homerless in his final 23 regular-season games with Houston.
But Beltran caught fire that postseason, going 10-for-22 with four home runs in the NLDS against the Braves, and 10-for-24 with four more home runs in the NLCS against the Cardinals.
"I think some of it is a function of with the right guys, being in the postseason raises their concentration level to where your physical ability is heightened by that," Berkman said. "And some of it, too, is the ebb and flow of the game. He was not swinging the bat particularly well in the second half, but as good a hitter as he is, it always come back around.
"The timing of that was perfect for us."
Perhaps Beltran's timing can be perfect again.
"When the sand starts to go through the hourglass and you feel like you only have so many chances left in the postseason, and you're on a team that you think has a pretty good opportunity, you are going to be more excited about it," Berkman said.