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Archive for Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Commentary: Beltran boosting his market value

October 20, 2004

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— It turns out the Phillies organization has one last chance to redeem itself for being such a tease these last two seasons.

The road to redemption can be paved by a 6-foot-1 outfielder who got away once -- if the Phils really tried for him -- but shouldn't be allowed to escape again.

Carlos Beltran is the way out of the mire for the Phillies. All they have to do is play with the big boys and decide that greatness is a goal worth attaining. Sounds improbable, but you never know.

By now, it is obvious that Beltran -- hitting .462 for Houston with eight homers in the postseason entering today's game -- will be one of the most sought-after free agents in the short but lucrative history of free agents.

There is good timing in life and then there is ridiculously good timing. Beltran, who began the season as a well-regarded member of the Kansas City Royals, is ending it as baseball royalty.

Things didn't have to turn out quite as well. He was traded to Houston in late June, but the Astros floundered around so badly for the next month that there was speculation he would be shipped again before the trading deadline.

That didn't happen, and both Beltran and the Astros are grateful. The team caught fire, won the wild-card slot, beat the Braves in the division series, and now the Astros have taken St. Louis deep into a series most thought the Cardinals should win easily.

A large part of the reason has been the 27-year-old switch-hitting Beltran, who has hit a record-tying eight postseason home runs to go along with his 14 RBIs. Monday, as the Astros exploded in the ninth for a 3-0 win in Game 5 of the NLCS, Beltran singled to lead off the final inning and start the game-winning rally that was capped by Jeff Kent's three-run home run.

Beltran showed the rest of his game Monday, too. He stole second in the ninth inning and made a couple of excellent fielding plays, a diving catch of a line drive off the bat of Edgar Renteria and a long run that took him halfway up the hill in deep center to chase down a shot by Reggie Sanders.

"He's a special talent," Houston first baseman Jeff Bagwell said. "The obvious thing is that he's a five-tool player, but there's another thing that goes along with Carlos. He's a pleasure to be around. I hope he stays in an Astros uniform forever, but I'm going to ride his coattails right now as far as he can take us."

With a little luck, that could be the all the way to the World Series, although the Astros wouldn't have gotten a sniff of the postseason had it not been for the 23 homers and 53 RBIs Beltran produced in his 90 games for Houston. Along the way, he has gone from being a good player in a tiny market who rarely got national attention to the hottest name in baseball.

"I think now the word's out. I think the world knows he's one of the greatest players in the game," manager Phil Garner said. "There isn't anything he can't do."

This gets back to the part about great timing. Beltran hasn't been displaying his talent with 15,000 people rattling around Kauffman Stadium this time. He's merely been a huge factor in the biggest games of the season.

That will do nothing to hurt his bargaining power in the off-season, and he is represented by demon agent Scott Boras.

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