St. Petersburg, Fla. This is what Adrian Beltre envisioned when he signed with Texas in the offseason. Balls jumping off his bat in October, the Rangers making another run for the pennant.
Beltre hit three straight home runs and the defending AL champions advanced again, beating the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 in Game 4 Tuesday to win their playoff matchup.
Beltre put on a power show that few players in major league history have matched, helping Texas take the best-of-five series and ending the Rays’ remarkable run to the wild-card spot. The Rangers next play the Detroit Tigers-New York Yankees winner.
“From my point of view, Texas gave me the best chance to put a ring on my finger,” Beltre added, “and I am just two steps away from it. Hopefully that happens.”
Ian Kinsler led off the game for Texas by homering on the second pitch from rookie Jeremy Hellickson.
Then it was Beltre’s turn. He came into the game in an 1-for-11 slump in this series before breaking loose.
Maybe Beltre’s best day as a pro.
“I think besides my first big league hit, this is right up there,” said the slugger, who spent last season with the Boston Red Sox. He’s back in the postseason for the first time since 2004, when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It was the seventh time a player has homered three times in a postseason game — Adam Kennedy was the last to do it, for the Angels in 2002. Babe Ruth did it twice, while Reggie Jackson, George Brett and Bob Robertson also are on the list.
Beltre connected in his first three at-bats. Given a chance to tie the big league record of four homers in a game, he hit a routine flyout in the eighth against Wade Davis.
“I was just trying to get a run there. Hit a line drive somewhere, maybe in the gap because they were trying to come back. ... Winning the game was more important for me than to hit the (fourth) homer,” Beltre said.
Neftali Feliz gave up a run in the ninth inning before closing for his third save of the series, preserving the victory for Matt Harrison.
Texas won for the fifth straight time on the road overall — all at Tropicana Field — in the opening round. The Rangers eliminated Tampa Bay in five games last year, winning three times in the Rays’ home stadium.
Beltre hit solo shots off Hellickson in the second and fourth innings, and added another solo drive against Game 1 winner Matt Moore in the seventh.
The Rays weren’t the only ones who had trouble keeping up with Beltre — a television cameraman trying to run alongside Beltre to capture the image as the star jogged home did a face-first pratfall.
Beltre and Kinsler tied for the team lead with 32 homers, and Beltre had been on a late-season tear going into the playoffs. The Rangers finished with just six hits in the clincher.
Texas reached the World Series for the first time last year, but lost to San Francisco.