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At his best, Carlos Beltrán was one of the most well-rounded players in Major League history -- a switch-hitter and true five-tool player capable of hitting for power and average, of offering Gold Glove defense, of stealing bases and so much more. His rare longevity allowed him to thrive for two full decades as he donned the caps of seven different organizations.
Plenty happened in Beltrán’s career over that time, including these Top 10 moments:
1. An October unlike any other
Midway through the 2004 campaign, the Royals traded Beltrán, who was due to become a free agent after the season, to the Astros in a three-team deal. Willing to give up two bright young pieces in Octavio Dotel and John Buck to make the trade happen, the Astros received instant gratification when Beltrán hit 23 homers over 90 regular-season games for his new team.
Then he reached another level -- one that few others have approached in October. Over 12 playoff games, Beltrán batted .435/.536/1.022, swatting eight home runs to match Barry Bonds for the most in a single postseason. (Randy Arozarena eventually broke that record in 2020 but needed 20 playoff games to do so; Bonds required 17 to set the mark in the first place.) It was not enough for the Astros, who fell to the Cardinals in a dramatic seven-game National League Championship Series, but it established Beltrán’s growing reputation as a clutch October performer. Houston certainly wouldn’t have made it that far without him.
2. Going out on top
Entering the 2017 playoffs, Beltrán was one of three active players with at least 2,500 career games and no World Series ring. It was hardly a secret that at age 40 and in his 20th Major League season, Beltrán desired a championship more than anything else. So it was vindicating for him to earn that ring with the Astros -- and not simply as an unproductive player hanging on, but as an important part of the team who appeared in 129 games and amassed more than 500 plate appearances.
The legacy from that 2017 championship will always be clouded, because Beltrán was later named in MLB’s investigation on sign-stealing practices -- a report that cost him his job as manager of the Mets. But the ring is nonetheless something he can carry with him as the crowning achievement of a two-decade career. Two weeks after the World Series ended, Beltrán announced his retirement.
3. Making his mark
Upon signing with the Mets in 2005, Beltrán submitted a pedestrian enough season for some to question whether he could handle the pressure of a large market. Turns out he could, with aplomb. The next year, Beltrán became a human highlight reel for a Mets offense that ranked among baseball’s best. Among his feats: On May 23, Beltrán led off the bottom of the 16th inning with a walk-off homer off Phillies reliever Ryan Madson. On July 16 and 18, he hit grand slams in consecutive games. On Aug. 22, he hit a dramatic walk-off homer to complete a six-run comeback against the Cardinals. And on Sept. 28, Beltrán hit his 41st homer to match Todd Hundley’s franchise record -- a mark that stood until Pete Alonso broke it another 13 years later.
4. Climbing the mountain
Long before Beltrán won a World Series for the Astros, he mastered their ballpark -- particularly Tal’s Hill, the unusual mound that defined center field in Houston from 2000-16. When he visited with the Mets on July 7, 2007, Beltrán made one of the most memorable catches in the history of the hill, climbing most of the way up it to rob Luke Scott of what would have been a 14th-inning, walk-off hit. Instead, the Mets and Astros kept playing until the 17th, when -- who else? -- Beltrán drove home the go-ahead run.
Beltrán didn’t require gimmicks for defensive highlights, of course. He won three consecutive Gold Gloves in center field from 2006-08, making most of his catches in more traditional environs.
5. Bursting onto the scene
From the start, high expectations surrounded Beltrán, a second-round Draft pick of the Royals in 1995. It took Beltrán three years to make it to the Majors, albeit only for a brief stint at age 21. A year later, in 1999, Beltrán arrived for good, batting .293 with 27 doubles, seven triples, 22 homers and 27 stolen bases in 156 games. He ran away with the American League Rookie of the Year Award, becoming the second rookie switch-hitter in history after Devon White in 1987 to finish with 20-plus home runs and steals. On a young Royals offense that also included Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye, Beltrán rapidly developed into the best of the bunch, amassing 123 homers and 164 stolen bases over six and a half years in Kansas City.
6. It wasn’t all bad
With regards to Beltrán, the 2006 postseason is generally remembered more for what he didn’t do -- swing the bat on a vicious 0-2 Adam Wainwright curveball that ended the NL Championship Series -- than for what he did. That’s not entirely fair. Beltrán’s NLCS Game 1 homer accounted for the only two runs in that contest, while his pair of home runs in Game 4 helped the Mets draw even in the series. Even in Game 7, the Mets would have been further from striking distance had Beltrán not doubled and scored from second base on a David Wright single to provide their only run of the game in the first. Overall, Beltrán hit safely in seven of his final eight playoff games in 2006, batting .323/.417/.645 with nine runs and five RBIs in those contests.
7. New team, same dream
By 2011, the Mets found themselves in the same situation the Royals had been in seven years earlier, looking to shed payroll and bring in younger players. The entire baseball world knew it, leading many to believe the team would discount the price to acquire Beltrán. Instead, then-general manager Sandy Alderson sent Beltrán to San Francisco for the Giants’ top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler, who later blossomed into a Cy Young candidate in New York and Philadelphia. Beltrán held up his end of the bargain as well. In 44 games as a rental, he hit a sizzling .323/.369/.551 with nine doubles, four triples and seven home runs. That it wasn’t enough to guide the Giants into the playoffs was hardly the fault of Beltrán, who watched his new team finish four games back of the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card race.
8. Out at the plate
Unable to beat ’em, Beltrán eventually joined ’em, inking a two-year deal with the Cardinals following the 2011 season. Although he was in his mid-30s at that point and not quite the same player he had been in his prime -- the Mets moved him to right field late in his tenure and he all but ceased attempting to steal bases -- Beltrán still knew how to hit. He was also still plenty capable of making plays in the outfield. In the 10th inning of 2013 NLCS Game 1, Beltrán threw out Mark Ellis attempting to score the go-ahead run on a fly ball to right. Three innings later, he hit a walk-off single against Kenley Jansen. Beltrán went on to reach his first World Series that October, but the Cardinals lost in six games to the Red Sox.
9. Money maker
Following his strong run in Kansas City early in his career, Beltrán fashioned himself into one of the game’s most sought-after free agents. Rumors persisted that Beltrán might go to the Yankees, but when Pedro Martínez signed with the Mets early in the offseason, Beltrán became serious about joining the future Hall of Famer in Flushing. Early in January, Beltrán inked a seven-year, $119 million contract that was the largest in franchise history at the time. Although he sometimes struggled to stay healthy throughout his tenure in Queens (and despite a seemingly endless string of criticism), Beltrán amassed more doubles (208), home runs (149) and RBIs (559) with the Mets than with any other team.
10. Elite company
Nearly a decade after arriving in Queens, Beltrán finally joined the Yankees, signing a three-year deal with them prior to the 2014 season. The contract took him through the end of his 30s while allowing him to reach another notable milestone. On May 15, 2016, Beltrán hit his 400th homer to become the 54th player to reach that plateau. He went on to hit 35 more for the Yankees, Rangers and Astros, which placed him 46th on the all-time list when he retired. Of Beltrán’s 435 career homers, 311 came as a left-handed batter and 124 from the right side of the plate. He added 16 more during a decorated postseason career.