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Monday, October 15, 2012

Freese, Beltran are 'carrying us'

Freese, Beltran are 'carrying us'

20 minutes ago  • 
SAN FRANCISCO • Cardinals first baseman Lance Berkman has been as close as the on-deck circle to watch two of his teammates in two different Octobers have two of the greatest postseason runs in baseball history, and he saw enough to know the crisp, fall truth.
There’s no magic here. There’s no playoff pixie dust that falls on one hitter each autumn and has turned David Freese and Carlos Beltran into hitters who rank with the greats when it comes to October performance.
There is, Berkman said late Sunday night, only talent and timing.
“It’s luck of the draw,” Berkman said. “Anybody who has good hitting talent can do that. It’s just a matter of getting hot at the right time. That’s what it is. You’ve got a guy with talent, a guy who can carry a team, and they get hot, and that’s what they do.”
That’s what they are doing, again.
If it’s the National League championship series and there are home runs being hit, it must be Freese and Beltran who do it. Just as he did last year on his way to the NLCS MVP, Freese put the Cardinals ahead early Sunday with a two-run homer, his first of this postseason and his fourth in NLCS play. Beltran followed with a two-run homer that turned out to be the winner in the Cardinals’ 6-4 victory against San Francisco in Game 1. The homer was Beltran’s third of this postseason and the 14th playoff home run of his career. Seven of them — half — came in NLCS against the Cardinals in 2004 and 2006. Their talents have had times like this before.
But few others have.
With four at-bats Sunday against the Giants, Freese vaulted into elite company, a group that Beltran was already a part of. Beltran’s .824 slugging percentage in 29 playoff games is the highest in baseball history. Freese’s .739 slugging percentage in 25 playoff games ranks sixth all-time. Beltran and Freese are two of only four players, however, in baseball history with slugging percentages better than .710 and more than 100 plate appearances in the postseason. The other two are Hall of Famers, Lou Gehrig at .731 and Babe Ruth at .744.
“Right now, I’m really enjoying myself,” said Beltran, who hit .444 in the division series against Washington with two homers and four RBIs. His double in the ninth inning Friday sparked the game-winning, series-claiming rally. “Three opportunities that I’ve been in the playoffs, I always tell myself to go play the game, don’t try to do too much. Right now, I’m seeing the ball well. Good things are happening.”
Echoed Freese: “I think it’s the best time of the year. … You’ve got to bring that focus. You’ve got to bring that desire.”
Freese’s role in last year’s manic October run for a World Series championship has been condensed to his World Series theatrics — the triple that tied Game 6 and the home run that won it. But his surge actually started well before that. Freese had five RBIs in the division series against Philadelphia, then he went berserk against Milwaukee. In the six-game NLCS, Freese hit .545 with a 1.091 slugging percentage, three homers and nine RBIs. In seven NLCS games, including Sunday’s, he has four homers in 26 at-bats and a 1.077 slugging percentage. His home run in the second inning Sunday off Madison Bumgarner got the Cardinals their first runs and a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
It also moved up the ranks in Cardinals history. His four NLCS home runs are the third-most in club history behind Albert Pujols (10) and Jim Edmonds. Freese’s six postseason home runs tie him with Larry Walker for the third-most in club history.
“I think it comes down to confidence and focus,” said Cardinals cleanup hitter Allen Craig. “These guys have been there. Carlos’ postseason numbers are off the charts. He’s got a lot of numbers built up. (Freese) has a mindset to do what he did last year. He can.”
Like Freese’s homer in the second inning, Beltran’s came with two strikes. The switch-hitter worked Bumgarner through a five-pitch at-bat and two outs in the inning before drilling a home run to the seats beyond left-field. It was his eighth home run in the NLCS, tying him for the fifth-most in either league’s championship series history.
That’s globally.
Locally, Beltran’s home run gave the Cardinals a 6-0 lead and it would prove to be the winning margin in Game 1.
“Those two swings of the bat,” infielder Daniel Descalso said of the home runs by Freese and Beltran, “are basically the difference in the game.”
The difference in Game 1 only add to their October history.
Maybe the talent is in the timing.
“I think in the postseason, the stats are out the window,” said outfielder Matt Holliday. “The focus becomes narrower. They’re both swinging the bat really well right now. That’s fun to watch. They’re getting good swings. And they’re carrying us.”

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