ST. LOUIS -- Seven times, Carlos Beltran has played a game in which a win meant a trip to the World Series.
Seven times, his team has lost, including the Cardinals' 6-4 loss to the Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday. St. Louis leads the NLCS, 3-2.
One of the best postseason players in the history of Major League Baseball never to play on its highest stage wants badly to snap that losing streak, and his current Cardinals teammates know it. They want to snap Beltran's streak, too, and the next chance comes in Game 6 on Friday night (7:30 p.m. CT on TBS).
"I think we all think about it, we all talk about it," said third baseman David Freese. "I've publicly stated it. In 2011 [when the Cardinals last won a championship], there were some veterans like Octavio Dotel and a bunch of other guys, and you want to win it for them. Obviously, you want to win it just as much as the next guy, but to get it for the guys who have grinded it out for so many years and are close to being in the Hall of Fame …"
Freese stopped mid-thought because Beltran was walking by, suited up for the team's flight to St. Louis.
"A guy that dresses this well, are you kidding me?" said Freese, brightening a heavy mood in the visitors' clubhouse at Dodger Stadium. "He deserves to get to the World Series."
That quest was delayed by the Dodgers, who hit four home runs on Wednesday to send the teams back to Busch Stadium.
It conjured an unfortunately familiar feeling for Beltran.
"We're OK, man," he said. "We've got the one-game lead. We weren't expecting to come here [to Dodger Stadium] and have it be easy. That's why they played so good to get to this point. They have a good pitching staff; we have a good pitching staff also, so we have to battle and find a way to get it done."
Pressed to reflect on his personal quest for a World Series, Beltran shook his head.
"For me, I have to do my job," he said. "Simple as that."
He has done his job well in October, a career .327 postseason hitter who has been outslugged among players with at least 75 postseason plate appearances by only Troy Glaus, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth. Beltran has a hit in six of those seven games with his team on the brink of the World Series, plus seven walks, six runs scored, one RBI and one very famous strikeout.
Each time, the Series has slipped away:
• In 2004, Beltran's Astros took a 3-2 lead on the Cardinals in the NLCS on Jeff Kent's walk-off three-run home run, a winning rally sparked by Beltran's single and stolen base. But the Astros lost Game 6 on Jim Edmond's 12th-inning home run, then watched Roger Clemens lose a 2-0 lead in Game 7. The Cardinals wound up being swept by the Red Sox in the World Series.
• In 2006, Beltran's Mets beat Chris Carpenter and the Cardinals in Game 6 of the NLCS to even the series at 3, setting up a Game 7 duel between Oliver Perez and Jeff Suppan that, thanks in part to an Endy Chavez catch, went into the ninth inning with the teams tied at 1. Yadier Molina's two-run home run gave the Cardinals the lead, and when Beltran was caught looking on an Adam Wainwright curveball to end the game, the Cardinals were headed back to the World Series, where they beat the Tigers.
• In 2012, when Beltran joined the Cardinals to help replace some of Albert Pujols' lost production, St. Louis took a 3-1 lead over the Giants in the NLCS. But the Cardinals were outscored over the final three games by a 20-1 margin, and San Francisco advanced to beat Detroit in the World Series.
With all of that history in mind, the current Cardinals are not shy about saying, "Let's do it for Beltran."
"That's always been a theme of what these guys would like to see happen," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "For all of us in St. Louis, we think back to the days when he was in Houston, and [he] may have been the best player on the planet at the time. He's been close. Of course, in New York [as well]. I think every one of us would love to see him get that opportunity. It would be a special moment for everybody."
Said Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay: "We all understand how special it is to be in the postseason, and that this doesn't happen that often," he said. "Some of us, this is all we know. But we realize how fortunate we are. Especially for a guy like Carlos who has had so much success, we definitely want to get him a ring."