ST. LOUIS -- Jessica Beltran awoke at 4 a.m. on Friday and turned toward her husband, the greatest postseason hitter in history never to play in a World Series.
Carlos Beltran was awake. He was sitting up in bed, his hands clenched around an imaginary bat. He was working on his swing.
"I was praying to God for this amazing opportunity that He finally gave to us at the right time, and I turned to him and his hands were like that," she said. "In the dark, I'm like, 'What are you doing?' He's like, 'I'm practicing my grip.'
"I think it paid off, right? It's awesome."
After a decade of heartbreak, Beltran will get to play in the World Series. His first-inning double began the Cardinals' assault of Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, and by night's end, Busch Stadium was celebrating a 9-0 victory and a ticket to baseball's ultimate stage.
A more restful night's sleep awaited.
"I was thinking about the game, thinking about the things that I need to go when I get to the ballpark," Beltran said. "And hopefully, all the positives that you put into your brain, it can come through. Today, more than what I was thinking came through."
Beltran came through to the tune of three hits, including a pair of RBI singles, a long flyout to the warning track in the fourth inning and a sensational diving catch to rob the Dodgers' Juan Uribe in the fifth. The double was his 30th extra-base hit in postseason play, trailing only Albert Pujols (37) and Chipper Jones (31) in NL history. Beltran's 12 RBIs in this postseason lead all hitters.
Beltran's Cards will draw either the Red Sox or Tigers beginning Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX), but the opponent does not matter. Seven times before this crisp October night, his team had played a game in which a win meant a trip to the World Series. Seven times, his team had lost.
On Friday, Beltran's team finally won.
"The dream was good, but the reality is always better," Beltran said. "This is fun, man. This is a dream come true for me and for my people who know me. My family, they know how much I want to be in this position."
Not yet in
|Adam Dunn||White Sox||1,870|
|Jose Reyes||Blue Jays||1,303|
It has been a long time coming. In 2004, Beltran's Astros led the Cardinals in the NLCS, 3-2, but lost Game 6 in extra innings on a Jim Edmonds home run, and then they saw Roger Clemens lose a 2-0 lead in Game 7.
In 2006, Beltran's Mets forced a Game 7 with the Cards. But Yadier Molina hit a go-ahead home run in the ninth inning, Beltran was caught looking at an Adam Wainwright curveball to end the game, and Beltran was denied again.
So he joined the Cardinals for 2012, part of St. Louis' answer to Pujols' departure, and saw his new team take a commanding 3-1 lead over the Giants in the NLCS. Again, Beltran was denied, as the Cards lost three straight games by a 20-1 margin.
"It wasn't meant to be, it wasn't meant to happen," Beltran said. "I always put it that way. ... For me, being able to get so close and never being able to get to the World Series, it gave me motivation to come every year and work hard, prepare myself and try to get there. Thank God I got the opportunity to play with this team. There's a lot of winners on this ballclub."
When the Cardinals struck first on Friday, third baseman David Freese thought about Beltran.
"I'm guilty of thinking about that all game, probably more so once we got a pretty good lead," Freese said. "Obviously, [Carlos is a] Hall of Fame talent, but [he's] a better friend, a better teammate and an exceptional leader. He deserves this more than anybody."
Asked amid a shower of champagne how a World Series could impact his legacy, Beltran shrugged.
"I feel like a winner right now, actually," Beltran said. "Being able to turn the page and get to this position, I feel like a winner. Only God knows the result, but at the end of the day, I know we're going to fight, we're going to battle, we're going to compete hard and we're going to try to get it done.
"Win or not, I can say that I was there."