ST. LOUIS — Only seven players who will suit up for the Cardinals in the NLCS made the postseason roster when the club won the World Series in 2011.
Those who have earned their rings often talk about how they want to win a championship for all those who haven’t. But there is one player they mention far more than any other. That would be veteran right fielder Carlos Beltran, the standard-bearer for coming oh-so-close.
“Man, I want that guy to get a ring so bad,” 2011 World Series hero David Freese says. “I’m going to talk about this as long as we’re playing. It’s not about looking in the mirror. It’s about fighting for the guy next to you.”
Beltran is the only player to reach Game 7 of a League Championship Series three times who hasn’t reached the World Series. (Casey Blake also came up short in three trips to an LCS, but his teams made it to Game 7 only once.)
Each of Beltran’s attempts was spoiled by the Cardinals one way or another. His 2004 Astros and 2006 Mets lost to the Cardinals, and after Beltran joined them in 2012 they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Giants. Before last year’s finale in San Francisco, the players sent out a group text among themselves with the message, “Let’s win this one for Carlos.”
“We were right there,” Adam Wainwright says. “Gosh, we were right there.”
Well, they were right there for about three innings, before the Giants took a 7-0 lead on the way to a 9-0 rout.
After Wainwright pitched St. Louis to an NLDS-clinching 6-1 victory Wednesday night, Beltran and the Cardinals are poised for another run at the Fall Classic. At 36 and in the last year of his two-year contract with the Cardinals, he knows time isn’t on his side.
But if you think he will approach this series any differently, you haven’t been watching him very closely. No matter what time of season, Beltran is one of those athletes who makes things look easy because he plays with such a relaxed style. He credits his methods for the enormous success he’s enjoyed in the postseason.
“I mess with my teammates a lot that I live life at 80 percent,” he says. “When you do things at 100 percent, you’re out of control. So I live life at 80 percent and I can control my life the right way. I try to be as relaxed as I can be because that’s something that works for me.”
Cool on the outside doesn’t mean he’s not feeling the butterflies on the inside, though, at least initially.
“My first at-bat, you get anxious, you get emotional,” he says. “Not like you want to cry but emotional, like, ‘Wow, I worked so hard to get to this point and now here we are.’ It’s time to go out and try to make the most out of the opportunity. It’s a great feeling, man. It doesn’t get better than this.”
New Yorkers consider the enduring image of Beltran standing in the box, bat on shoulders, frozen by a Wainwright curve that ended the 2006 NLCS. But elsewhere, he is considered the best postseason hitter of the past 10 years, with 16 homers and a .345/.453/.761 slash line. His average dropped after going only 4 for 18 against the Pirates, but two of his hits were homers.
While coming so close to the World Series might gnaw at many, Beltran accepts the results with as much grace as you see when he is gliding after a fly ball.
“I’ve been part of the losing three times, but I feel so proud just to be in that situation,” he says. “You know how many players do not have those opportunities? I don’t feel bad at all.”
Quite the opposite, in fact. He gains a greater appreciation with every attempt in October.
“It doesn’t get old,” Beltran says. “You have to appreciate this. It’s about playing in these types of games. For me, I appreciate every moment.”
Cardinals home-grown outfielder Jon Jay is one of numerous young Cardinals who don’t know what a season would be like if it ended earlier than October. Jay already has a World Series ring and will be playing in his third consecutive NLCS.
“Some of us, this is all we know,” Jay says. “For a guy like Carlos, who has had so much success, we want to get him a ring.”
Their next, and, possibly last, chance starts Friday.
(NOTE: In case you’re wondering: The seven Cardinals on this NLCS roster who were part of a postseason roster in 2011: Freese, Jay, Yadier Molina, Matt Holliday, Lance Lynn, Daniel Descalso and Adron Chambers).
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.