ST. LOUIS -- It all began for Carlos Beltran in Kansas City, where he spent seven seasons before moving to Houston, and then to New York with the Mets. He was in San Francisco with the Giants in 2011, playing for the team that did not win a World Series in a three-year span.
At 35, still searching for his Holy Grail, Beltran returned to the heartland as a free agent for the 2012 season. He came back to Missouri, to the other side of the state, with the expressed purpose of aligning himself with a team he believed capable of taking him where he's never been -- to a World Series.
The Cardinals, just as Beltran envisioned it, have transformed his dream into reality. His teammates clearly are unanimous in the view that it could not happen to a classier guy.
"Finally," Yadier Molina, the catcher and leader, said when asked about Beltran's personal quest, covering 16 seasons and 2,064 regular-season games. "He deserves it. He's a great teammate, a great guy, great player.
"I'm so happy for him. We did it just for him."
"[I am] thinking about my family, my dad, my mom, my wife and my kids," said Beltran, a 10-time All-Star, who was characteristically calm and reflective in the afterglow. "[I'm thinking about] all the people that have been around me and know how much I wanted to get to this point."
A native of Manati, Puerto Rico, Beltran mentioned "my country, my hometown. ... So it's a great feeling to be able to come through and to be able to have this opportunity.
"This team has been on a mission to get me to this point, and I really appreciate that. They really want me to win a World Series, to have an opportunity to play in a World Series. It really means a lot. It means they care."
The Cards left no doubt about that mission in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. Young Michael Wacha wowed everyone, including the Dodgers, on Friday night over the course of a stunning 9-0 decision.
St. Louis rides Wacha's magical wings, the multiple talents of the peerless Molina and Beltran and so many other organizational assets to a Fall Classic date with the Red Sox or Tigers. If it's Detroit and Torii Hunter, it will be a matchup of distinguished, respected right fielders playing in the World Series for the first time.
"I'm guilty of thinking about that all game, probably more so once we got a pretty good lead," Cardinals third baseman David Freese said. "Obviously, [Carlos is a] Hall of Fame talent, but [he's] a better friend, a better teammate and an exceptional leader. He deserves this more than anybody."
Beltran was one game away from reaching a World Series seven times, the frustration deepening last year when the Cards let a 3-1 NLCS lead slip away against the Giants.
Not yet in
With Carlos Beltran advancing to the World Series for the first time in his career, the following is a list of active players who've played in the most regular-season games without appearing in the Fall Classic.
In 2006, Beltran was one successful at-bat away when his Mets fell to the Cardinals, 3-1, in an NLCS Game 7 at Shea Stadium. Beltran looked at a third-strike curve from Adam Wainwright, his teammate now, for the final out of that series, leaving the bases loaded.
True to character, Beltran praised Wainwright and the Redbirds that night, accepting a devastating loss with remarkable grace and dignity.
"Just excitement, just fired up for this team, fired up for Carlos, fired up for this city," Wainwright said amid the celebration. "We're trying to bring this thing home."
Like Hunter, who has played 2,091 games in 17 seasons, Beltran has endured, driving himself toward that one elusive goal.
On the precipice again, Beltran rose to the challenge with a superlative Game 6 performance at Busch Stadium against the game's best pitcher, Clayton Keshaw.
One of the premier postseason players in history, Beltran burnished his reputation with a double, two RBI singles and a spectacular diving catch to rob Juan Uribe in right center. Fittingly, it was Beltran's single, cashing in Matt Carpenter after his double ended an 11-pitch duel, that opened the floodgates against Kershaw.
"Carlos, he's a heck of a player," said Wacha, the 22-year-old right-hander who held the Dodgers scoreless across 13 2/3 innings to win Games 2 and 6 against Kershaw and claim the NLCS Most Valuable Player Award. "He's out there running balls down, diving, knocks guys in, RBIs, hits, everything. I mean, it's fun to have him on our team."
Beltran was about 10 feet shy of unloading what would have been his 17th postseason home run, his drive to left falling short in the fourth. That was one of the few things that went right for Kershaw, who could not get an out in the fifth inning and was charged with seven runs.
Beltran, who had two homers and six RBIs in the NL Division Series triumph against the Pirates, leads all players in this postseason with 12 RBIs after produced a series-high six against the Dodgers. In 45 postseason games and nine series, Beltran has 37 RBIs to go with his 16 homers and is batting .337.
"It's an unbelievable feeling for all of us, seeing Carlos make it to the World Series," said Cards coach Bengie Molina, Yadier's big brother and a World Series champion in 2002 as the Angels' catcher. "This team plays together and really cares about each other. He deserves it. He's a great player and wonderful person."
During the NL championship trophy presentation on the field, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak brought a roar from the crowd with the mention of Beltran on a "very special night for everybody in red."
As one quest ends for one of the very best of his generation, another begins for Beltran. There's only thing better than playing in a World Series -- winning one.