In the wee hours of Saturday morning, Carlos Beltran proved that magic still lives after midnight. Señor Octubre, with a screaming liner, drove in the winning run, leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game One of the National League Championship Series. For Beltran, there was nothing unlucky about the bottom of the 13th.
On Sunday night, David Ortiz reminded the world that Big Papi and the Boston Red Sox are often down, but never out. With shades of 2004′s miracle heroics, he blasted a grand slam inches past a lunging Torii Hunter’s glove. The four runs tied the game against the Detroit Tigers, a team already patting its starter on the back for the win. Only to lose –the Red Sox prevailed in the bottom of the 9th.
On the first and last twilights of the weekend, St. Louis and Boston fans celebrated the sort of moment that only happens in October baseball, when there is no ticking time on the scoreboard. When magic can strike at any moment.
But for Beltran and Ortiz, these were but pieces to much greater legends. Most baseball players dream of, and fail to reach, this rarefied air of postseason heroism. Of the biggest hits beneath the brightest lights in the moments that matter most.
But Beltran and Ortiz? They’ve been here, before.
If not for ten naked fingers in search of a ring, Carlos Beltran could lay claim to the crown of best postseason batter of all time. With all due caveats about the unreliability of statistics, some numbers are too astounding to ignore. That’s especially the case in seeing Beltran’s postseason production.
Representing the Astros, Mets, and Cardinals, Beltran has hit an absolutely ridiculous .340/.448/.740 in 41 playoff games, blasting 16 HR, driving in 34 RBI, scoring 42 runs, and making pitchers look like Henry from Rookie of the Year when the magic wears off (aka terrified little boy face).
This includes his 2004 run with the Astros, when he carried the team on his broad shoulders to the NLCS, hitting .435 (20-46) with 8 HR, 14 RBI in 12 games, and setting a record for most runs scored in a single postseason, while tying the home-run record. That was simply the beginning.
So far, he already ranks fifth all-time in playoff slugging percentage, sixth in on-base + slugging percentage, and eighth in home-runs for postseason play. It’s a 41-game stretch in which he’s only failed to get on base in four of those contests, and either knocked in or scored a run in 30 of them.
To make all of this math tangible, consider that if you prorated Beltran’s postseason play into a standard 162-game season, the oft-underrated outfielder would merely put up these totals: 64 HR, 135 RBI, 202 hits, 166 runs, and 44 stolen bases. That would probably be considered the greatest season in baseball history.
As it stands, he already belongs in conversations of greatness.
If you compare Beltran’s playoff totals to past postseason legends, he almost always comes out on top. See for yourself:
Carlos Beltran (in 41 games): .340/.448/.740 | 16 HR | 34 RBI | 42 runs
Babe Ruth (also in 41 games): .326/.467/.744 | 15 HR | 33 RBI | 37 runs
Mickey Mantle (65 games): .257/.374/.535 | 18 HR | 40 RBI | 42 runs
Reggie Jackson, Mr. October himself (77 games): .278/.358/.527 | 18 HR | 48 RBI | 41 runs
So even against players with a lot more games played in the postseason, Beltran not only blows them out of the water with his averages, but also comes very close to their counting stats (already!). To put him in perspective with Jackson, the King of Clutchness, if Beltran continued his current pace through 77 games, he’d end up with 30 HR, 64 RBI, and 79 runs scored.
To quote Neville Longbottom as he faced a crossdressing Alan Rickman, that’s “Riddikulus!”
Any time you can put someone toe-to-toe with Babe Ruth and see he stands taller, something amazing has happened. Beltran deserves that sort of consideration in respecting his ability to rule the school in October. But obviously, his legacy is missing something that all of those other names have –a championship.
In fairness, he’s never had the cast around him that Ruth, Mantle, or Jackson boasted. But still, some will never be willing to call someone a hero of October baseball if they’ve never still stood at World Series end.
Unlike Beltran, Ortiz has the rings and the bling to match the magic, having reached the summit twice as the designated hitter and spiritual guide of the Boston Red Sox. But his numbers, though great, aren’t quite as Ruthian, as otherworldly.
In 72 playoff games, Ortiz has compiled a slash line of .284/.394/.542 with 15 HR, 54 RBI, and 44 runs scored. Sheer longevity and production has placed him top-10 all time in postseason play for the following categories: runs, total bases, doubles, home runs, RBIs, and walks. His name is scattered across the leaderboards for late-October greatness.
This is the beast of the northeast that became the face of Four Days in October, when the 2004 Red Sox delivered the greatest Cinderella Story of recent sports history. You know the story by now: they hadn’t won a World Series since 1912, the Yankees led 3-0 in the ALCS, and a tortured existence followed them everywhere. Bill Buckner, game seven collapses, a history of being the loser-little-brother to the Yankees’ dominance.
And in one swing of David Ortiz’s bat, that all started to fade. His walk-off home run in Game Four kept the series alive. His walk-off single in Game Five made it all seem possible. And six games later, the Red Sox had exorcised years of misfortune. They weren’t losers anymore; they were champions.
En route to Boston’s greatest baseball memory, Ortiz hit .400/.515/.764 in the 2004 postseason, compiling 5 HR and 19 RBI in 14 games. In 2007, when they returned to the promised land and secured a second title in 89 less years than their previous drought, Ortiz mashed for a line of .370/.508/.696, adding 3 HR and 10 RBI. In those two World Series sweeps, Ortiz came through with eight RBIs and nine runs in only eight games, hitting .321/.441/.571.
In short, Big Papi never came up small. After a near-century of suffering, the Red Sox added two flags that will fly forever in Fenway. And in both historic runs, David Ortiz was their centerpiece.
His career is a collage of these great moments. The walk-off blasts in games four and five of the legendary comeback against the Yankees. Another walk-off home-run that clinched game one of the 2004 World Series and started the sweep. The interview that earned his team the nickname of “the idiots” –a moniker that will never be forgotten in Fenway.
So perhaps his numbers won’t rise above Ruth, Reggie, or even Beltran.
But icons aren’t numbers, they are images. They are moments captured in time, heroics that stand the test of faded memories and rising stars. And thus, Ortiz will always shine bright in Boston. And in baseball.
In one weekend, baseball witnessed two of its greatest postseason legacies continue.
By next weekend, the sport could see these two legacies collide –two stars in the stratosphere of postseason greatness, sharing the same space, already statues in the pantheon of playoff history.
And if history repeats, the last man standing will still have a bat in his hand, a lightning rod inside a falling Gatorade shower.