ST. LOUIS — The difference in the Cardinals’ 3-2, 13-inning, four-hour, 47-minute victory over the Dodgers Friday night was very simple: The Cardinals had Carlos Beltran. The Dodgers did not.
For all of Beltran’s postseason brilliance, he never has made more of an impact on one game than he did with three monumental plays in the opener of this National League Championship Series at Busch Stadium.
Walk-off hit, check. With one out in the 13th, Beltran smacked a line drive to right off closer Kenley Jansen that scored Daniel Descalso, who had singled and gone to second after a walk to Matt Carpenter.
Game-saving play, check. With the score 2-2 and two on for the Dodgers in the 10th, Beltran caught a fly in medium right field and nailed Mark Ellis at the plate.
Game-tying hit, check. After the Dodgers scored their only runs in the third on Juan Uribe’s single, Beltran smacked a two-run double off Zack Greinke with two out in the bottom of the inning.
“You can’t play a much better game than that,” Carpenter said. “Deep down, I knew somehow, someway he was going to drive that run in.”
Outstanding performances in October are nothing new for Beltran, who ranks among the top postseason hitters of all time. He cites an ability to stay relaxed at all times — the 80 percent rule, he calls it — for his ability to deliver at this time of year. He was just as much at ease describing his heroics.
On the walk-off single, he said he had sized up Jensen and knew what pitch was coming.
“(On the first pitch), He made a good pitch, a backdoor cutter for a strike,” Beltran said. “After that, he tried to make me chase some cutters in the dirt. I was able to let those go and put myself into a hitter’s count. Once I put myself into a hitter’s count (3-1), I knew he was going to throw a pitch that I was going to be able to hit.”
How right he was. “It was a pitch right down the middle,” he added.
On the double play, the key was making sure the weak-armed Jon Jay did not make the catch. When Michael Young lofted the fly, it stayed in the air long enough for either outfielder to make the catch. Though the center fielder typically makes the call on such balls, this time Beltran took charge.
“I called the ball about five or six times and Jon Jay was able to hear me and leave it up to me,” Beltran said. “Once I caught it, I was hoping to make a good throw to home.”
The throw beat Ellis by three feet and, despite Ellis steamrolling into the plate, Yadier Molina held onto the ball.
The two-run double in the third came in the only inning that Greinke allowed a runner as far as second in his eight innings.
“After my first at-bat (strikeout looking), I went to the video room and was looking (at) those pitches,” Beltran said. “To me, they felt like they were outside. They were right on the edges for strikes.
“In my second at-bat, I had a little better idea of how they were trying to pitch me. I was looking for pitch out. Once again, I got to a 3-1 count and he threw a changeup (and) one of the few mistakes he made. I was able to hit it good. I knew it wasn’t going to leave the ballpark but I was hoping that it was going to be enough to fall for a hit.”
Center fielder Andre Ethier, playing his first game in the field in nearly a month, jumped into the fence but did not come up with the catch and the score was tied. Neither team mounted much of a threat over the next seven innings, when the Dodgers were thwarted by Beltran’s double play.
Three innings later, he frustrated them even more. It was his night, just as this is his time of year.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.