Beltre leaves Red Sox to be with wife

In a season ruined by injuries, the Boston Red Sox always could count on Adrian Beltre being in the lineup. Now he may have played his last game for them.

The Red Sox third baseman – and most consistent player in 2010 – left Boston for Los Angeles before Friday night’s game against the New York Yankees to be with his wife Sandra, who was about to give birth to their third child.

Manager Terry Francona doesn’t expect him back for any part of the season-ending three-game series, and Francona doesn’t even know if Beltre ever will wear a Red Sox uniform again.

Coming off a mediocre 2009 with Seattle, Beltre signed a one-year contract as a free agent with Boston, hoping to boost his chances for a lucrative, long-term deal after this season. The Red Sox, unsure if Beltre would rebound from his .265 batting average with eight homers and 44 RBI for the Mariners, didn’t want to make a multi-year commitment.

”He was pretty honest about what he was doing here,” Francona said before Friday’s game. ”He was coming on kind of a make-good (deal). He made pretty good. It worked out for everybody.”

Francona said he’d like Beltre to return, but doesn’t know what will happen.

Beltre played 154 games, many of them with a hamstring injury, hit 28 homers with 102 RBI and leads the Red Sox with a .321 batting average. He took over the third-base job from Mike Lowell, who hit .290 with 17 homers and 75 RBI last year. The Red Sox worked out an offseason trade that would have sent Lowell to Texas, but it fell apart because of a thumb injury that required surgery.

Beltre played sparingly until first baseman Kevin Youkilis was lost for the season with a thumb injury. Youkilis played his last game on Aug. 2 and Lowell’s been Boston’s primary first baseman since then. He was in the cleanup spot Friday night, entering the day with a .231 average, five homers and 24 RBI.

Lowell plans to retire after this season, and the Red Sox will honor him before Saturday’s game at ”Thanks, Mike Day.”

The Red Sox obtained him from the Florida Marlins with Josh Beckett before the 2006 season and he was the MVP in the 2007 World Series, Boston’s second championship in four years.

”When he first came here, (he was) very stabilizing,” Francona said. ”’07 was kind of the culmination of it. What he did in the World Series – regardless of whether he was the MVP or not – what he did was pretty special.”

Yankees manager Joe Girardi was a catcher for New York in 1998 when Lowell was called up to the majors for the first time with them.

”When he got called up with the Yankees (I was) just thinking, what a great kid, a guy with a lot of heart that was eager to learn, and he struck me as a special guy,” Girardi said. ”Not only has he been a special guy in his career, he’s been a special player, and I think that people in Boston fell in love with this guy because of the total package you get when you see Mike Lowell.”

If Beltre leaves, the Red Sox will need another third baseman, but Francona was impressed by what he gave the team even though it failed to reach the playoffs.

”The first month of the season, every time he saw me he thought he wasn’t playing, so he kind of avoided me,” Francona said. ”You kind of have to get to know him a little bit, but once that happened he became more vocal in the dugout. He became a leader on the field. If you ask everybody down there (in the clubhouse), they love him, myself included.

”He took some of the most ferocious hacks you’ve ever seen. He’d square up balls. He ran every ball out. He’s a treat, very accountable.”

But on Friday, Beltre headed to Los Angeles. On Saturday, the man he replaced at third base will be in the spotlight.

Somehow, Lowell’s still in Boston after nearly being traded and will be in the lineup after spending most of the season on the bench.

”It’s Mike Lowell Day, right?” Francona said. ”He’s playing. If they give out bobbleheads, he’s definitely playing.”