Carlos Beltran made a great catch look routine in the first game of the World Series. Then he had to leave because he hurt himself in the process. How much he can be expected to play in the remaining three to six games is a matter best left to trainers, doctors and conjecture until he takes some swings and sees how he feels. (UPDATE: He’s playing in Game Two.)
That’s about as Beltran a set of facts as one could conceive. The man makes things look far easier than they are; absorbs the blows nobody quickly comprehends; reaches a new pinnacle in his career; finds himself in dangerous day-to-day territory regarding his availability to continue scaling this peak experience; and, as a throwback of sorts, his team loses without him.
The 2013 Cardinals are no 2009 Mets at this stage of their postseason, though they at nearly full-strength appeared about as discombobulated as the Beltranless bunch we grimly cheered on when it was without Carlos, the other Carlos, Jose and David for a dizzying spell but chock full of Wilson Valdez and Jeremy Reed. The Red Sox were already well on their way to grounding the Redbirds Wednesday night when Beltran took three away from Boston and one for the team. But losing Carlos made the seven-run defeat almost incidental.
Granted, I say that as someone whose only Cardinal rooting interest in this is what goes on Carlos Beltran’s spare ring finger. I’m sure actual St. Louis fans are pretty upset about an 8-1 Boston thrashing and 0-1 Series deficit. I’ll let you know when I’m worried on their behalf. In the meantime, I take selective solace in the idea that if Beltran’s rib contusion confines him to exactly one moment in the World Series spotlight, it came on defense.
Carlos Beltran is a defensive genius. That’s a title that’s normally reserved for your Bill Belichick types as they’re working their way up the coordinating ladder, yet in 45 years of watching Mets baseball, I’ve never seen an outfielder so flat-out knowledgeable about fly balls, their journeys in progress and their ultimate destinations. Before his knees began to go, you didn’t necessarily notice the head because the legs moved so well. But the smarts were coaching the speed all along. There was no more spectacular example than the night at Minute Maid Park when the whole of Carlos knew exactly what it was doing as he homed in simultaneously on a long fly and a steep hill. The result was pure poetry. It dazzled a little more than most of Beltran’s glovework, a state of affairs attributable to his ability to disguise the extraordinary as ordinary.
You watch the David Ortiz grand slam he reduced to a sacrifice fly and you see someone who is not fazed by how far the ball is traveling because he knows what he’s doing out there. He tracks a ball as if he’s equipped with state-of-the-art GPS. The reach over the fence should be a bigger deal — he robbed Big Papi of three RBIs! But it’s just what this guy does. He didn’t have to dazzle because he had the route mapped out in advance and also the patience to pull over to side of the road of his mind and check the mental map before he drove too far off in the wrong direction. If a leap or a dive was required, Carlos would have leapt or dove. It wasn’t necessary. A slight adjustment was what he needed to make. Like the best coaches in football, he made it in order to get the ball back.
Did he have to sustain a poke to the ribs while committing grand theft baseball? Harold Reynolds demonstrated on MLB Network what made the catch painful. The right fielder managed to impale himself between sections of the Fenway fence. Beltran’s radar isn’t perfectly calibrated to avoid personal calamity. Give him a chance to come back, though, and he’ll probably figure a way around that, too.