On Thursday night, Beltran watched as his understudy, Matt Carpenter, joined with Jon Jay to form a potent 1-2 combination at the top of the Cardinals' lineup. The two combined for three hits, two walks and three runs scored, helping propel St. Louis to an 8-3 win in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. Thanks in part to the two homegrown players' efforts, the Redbirds are on the brink of a second straight NL pennant.
"When the first two guys are getting on base, it makes everything simple for the guys behind, because they don't feel the pressure that they have to hit the homer in order to score runs," said Beltran, who missed the game due to a left knee injury. "They just feel like, 'OK, I can put a good at-bat here, get a hit, keep the ball in the ballpark and we can score runs.'"
Perhaps not accidentally, the big game from Jay and Carpenter coincided with a couple of critical Cards hitters emerging from slumps. No. 3 hitter Matt Holliday was 2-for-5 and No. 5 man Yadier Molina was 2-for-4. Allen Craig had a hit and a sacrifice fly from the cleanup spot.
It's possible all three men would have raked even without men on base in front of them. But they're glad they didn't have to find out.
"It's a lot easier when those guys are getting on base and making things happen," said Craig. "It makes things easier for everybody. Not just those guys, but [Pete] Kozma and Daniel [Descalso] getting on at the bottom of the order, setting it up for the top of the order."
Jay has batted at a number of different spots in the Cardinals' order, but his combination of skills -- ability to get on base, ability to hit for average and some speed -- makes him a perfect fit for the No. 1 or 2 spot. Carpenter was a middle-of-the-order hitter in the Minor Leagues, but his outstanding batting eye and on-base ability suit him well to hit second in front of sluggers.
So while Beltran recovers, the two Cards draftees will continue setting the table for Holliday, Craig, et al. They got started right away on Thursday.
Jay singled to lead off the game for St. Louis, and Carpenter walked. That brought up Holliday, who poked a go-ahead single up the middle. Carpenter advanced to third on the hit and then scored on Craig's sac fly.
Carpenter doubled in the fifth and scored on Holliday's single, and Jay doubled in two runs in the sixth. In three of the four innings where the Redbirds scored, at least one of the two was directly involved in the rally.
"If we can get on base for the heart of our lineup," Jay said, "those guys are capable of driving in runs, 3-4-5-6-7, all the way through. It definitely helps."
It's possible Jay and Carpenter will be split up on Friday, since opposing starter Barry Zito was much more effective against left-handed hitters than right-handers in 2012. But whoever is at the top of St. Louis' order will have the same directive: get on base so that the big boys can drive you in.
"I feel like if we do the things that we did tonight," Carpenter said, "as far as competing and having quality at-bats and grinding them out and battling and laying off two pitches, which is what we do, [we'll be in good shape]. When we're going good, that's what we do. If we can continue that, we have a good chance to do something special."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less