Carlos Beltran should chuck up his middle finger every time he gets a clutch rip in the 2012 MLB playoffs. It wouldn’t be directed towards the camera people -- unless, of course, they were New York media. It would be a fitting symbol of how Beltran feels towards the New York Mets organization, media and fans, who tortured him over one at-bat.
In NYC, Beltran is defined by a single ass-out: a called third strike with the bases juiced, on a wicked curveball from Adam Wainwright that ended the 2006 NLCS between Beltran's Mets and the Cardinals. That one at-bat erased his sparkling playoff past, severed his love affair with brokenhearted Met fans and unfairly labeled Beltran as a choke artist in NY sports lore. A combination of nagging injuries, venomous criticism and a deteriorating Mets organization, led to Beltran being traded to San Francisco for hot pitching prospect Zach Wheeler at the 2011 trade deadline.
The vicious beauty of baseball’s playoffs lies in its duality. The post season makes legends (Reggie Jackson) and produces goats (Bill Buckner). Beltran has experienced both. His postseason career has been a rollercoaster of human highlight films with one major dip that he can’t shake. The science of baseball is weird. It’s based on numbers, but dictated by perception. In Beltran’s case, it’s sad that a numbers-reliant game could create this unfavorable legacy for a statistical postseason kingpin. It’s like people saying Michael Jackson struggled to perform at music awards because he once fell doing the Moon Walk at the Grammys.
If you let NY history tell it, the silky smooth Beltran is a postseason criminal that folded under pressure. Truthfully and statistically, however, Beltran is one of the game’s great playoff performers. His eye- popping stats back that up.
Beltran is top-10 postseason hitter at .378. He’s fourth in On-Base Percentage at (.489), first in slugging (.838) and first in O.P.S. (1.327). While other sluggers shrink in the playoffs (see 2012 Yankees), Beltran shows out when he hits his stage, like a late-80s LL. Playing in his first postseason since the infamous ’06 whiff, Beltran is back banging. The 15-year MLB vet hit .444 with two dingers and a regal 1.486 OPS against the Nats in the NLDS. And he’s hitting .429 with another homer through the first two games of a 1-1 NLCS against San Francisco.
In the 2004 MLB playoffs, he tied Barry Bond’s postseason record with eight homers. He parlayed that into a franchise-record 7-year $119 million deal with the Mets. Beltran was shunned by the Yanks first, despite offering them a significant discount, which rubbed Mets fans the wrong way from jump.
Beltran had his break out year with the Mets in ‘05 and reached Met records for homers (41) and runs scored. (127). Beltran entered the ‘06 season with World Series aspirations. The Mets lost the NLCS to the Cardinals in seven games. The fans were livid. Mets owner Fred Wilpon went as far as to flog himself in a New Yorker piece by Jeffrey Toobin, as "some schmuck in New York” who foolishly paid Beltran based on that one ’04 series with Houston Though blamed for the loss, Beltran’s three dingers were actually the main reason the series even went the distance. Knee-buckling curveball aside, Beltran’s continued postseason magic is no surprise to unemotional baseball observers.
There is a steel cage match of irony involving Beltran and the remaining playoff squads. Beltran can kill and flip a couple of birds with one baseball, by winning the World Series. He can send the Giants home with regret for not signing him as a free-agent after trading for him in 2011. If the Yankees go to the World Series, he can stick it to them for throwing his desire to wear pinstripes back in his face. Getting back at NY fans who said he wasn’t built for Broadway -- with the same team that crushed their hopes in ’06 --would be the clincher.