Beltran turns 40, still impacting games in 20th MLB season

Houston Astros' Carlos Beltran, right, singles off Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb during the fourth inning of a baseball game Friday, April 21, 2017, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Rays catcher Derek Norris, left, looks on. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) Carlos Beltran chuckled at the suggestion he somehow is defying ”father time.”

The nine-time All-Star is in his 20th major league season, three weeks into a second tour of duty with the Houston Astros.

And while he no longer is the dynamic young player he was during his first stint with the team, the three-time Gold Glove outfielder and 1999 AL Rookie of the Year is making an impact on and off the field.

Beltran turned 40 on Monday, a day after drawing a leadoff walk and coming around to score the go-ahead run in an extra-innings victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

He hit his first homer for the Astros since October 2004 last week, then homered again the following night to move within one extra-base hit (1,040) of tying Pete Rose for third-most among switch-hitters in major league history.

”We’re winning. We’re playing good baseball. We’re having a good time,” Beltran said of his return to the Astros.

He starred for Houston during the 2004 postseason, homering in five consecutive games and positioning himself to sign a $119 million deal with the New York Mets in free agency.

He’s also made postseason appearances with the Mets, St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers during a career that began with the Kansas City Royals.

Beltran hit 41 homers and drove in 131 runs in 232 games over the past two seasons with the New York Yankees, who sent him to the Rangers at the trade deadline last summer.

When the slugger, who has 423 career homers, became a free agent again last fall, the Astros didn’t hesitate to add him to a talented young roster that includes Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and George Springer.

”He brings a lot. He has a great presence on our team,” manager A.J. Hinch said.

”He’s a stabilizer when it comes to everything from the mental side of the game for some of our younger players to the controlled at-bats in the middle of our lineup that 20 years in the league will give you,” Hinch added. ”He’s just a very influential presence on a team that needed it.”

Sunday’s 6-4 victory in 10 innings over Tampa Bay was Houston’s ninth in 11 games, boosting the AL’s second-best record to 13-6 entering an off day Monday.

Beltran is batting .257 with two homers and seven RBIs, primarily as a designated hitter, in 18 games. He leads the club with six multi-hit games.

”He’s doing well. He’s sort of defied father time in every way,” Hinch said.

”Maybe his speed is down a little bit compared to his early days, obviously, but his ability to handle velocity and put at-bats together” is not, the manager added. ”He’s playing left field once a week, maybe. But I don’t think he cares about father time, he’s still a pretty complete player.”

Beltran was looking to join a playoff contender, and the decision to sign a $16 million, one-year contract with the Astros was an easy one.

”When I got traded from the Yankees to Texas, I got to see them play a lot,” he said. ”They’re a young team, a lot of talent. At every position, you see a guy who could a be a star-type of player in the league.”

Beltran welcomed a chance to make a difference in the clubhouse, as well.

”I’m a guy who likes to study the game. I like to come early, look at the pitchers to see tendencies, and if there’s something that they’re doing, then I’m going to try to use that to my advantage,” Beltran said.

”At the same time, I try to pass it on to the younger guys. Sometimes, when you’ve never done something, that doesn’t mean that you can’t try,” he added. ”So I tell them: `Hey, don’t be afraid to try. … You might get good results.’ That’s what it’s all about, being able to share my experience with them.”

Beltran said he hasn’t given much thought to how long he might continue to play. He just wants to ”enjoy what I’ve got left.”

”It’s going to be based on how I feel, my production. If I feel like I had a pretty good year like I did last year, why do I need to go home?” he said.

”If I can contribute at a high level, then I’d love to play as long as I can,” Beltran added. ”If I feel like I cannot contribute, and I’m not happy with my production, it’s not like I have to make a difficult decision.”