Game-changer: Beltran's big afternoon sparks Cardinals past Marlins

News-DemocratJuly 7, 2013 

— Carlos Beltran is 36, yet there he was Sunday bunting for a base hit, stealing home and making a clutch catch.

Beltran hardly played the part of the St. Louis Cardinals' elder statesman, considering the role he played in their 3-2 victory over the Miami Marlins before 43,471.

"He's one of the best players in the game, and I think he showed why today --in all facets of the game," first baseman-outfielder Allen Craig said. "Defense, offense and then baserunning. That was a pretty incredible slide at home to get in there safe, and it ended up being a pretty big run.

"He's awesome. I think he's still got it. I haven't noticed any weakness in his game. Obviously, I didn't play with him when he was younger, but he's still got his speed, he can still throw and hit and do it all."

Beltran's contributions helped the Cardinals (53-34) to their first home sweep of the season as they pulled into a first-place tie with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Central.

Beltran, who will start for the NL in the July 16 All-Star Game in New York, is batting .307 with 19 home runs and 51 RBIs.

"Who says I'm old?" Beltran said jokingly. "I feel great."

Beltran did two-thirds of his damage in a two-run third that gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead against Jose Fernandez (5-5).

With Matt Carpenter on first after being hit by a pitch, Beltran placed a perfect bunt halfway between home and third.

Marlins third baseman Ed Lucas grabbed the ball on the run, but made a hurried and high throw to first base.

Matt Holliday then walked to load the bases, and Allen Craig followed with a sacrifice fly to deep right that put the Cardinals ahead 2-1 and advanced Beltran to third base.

With Holliday breaking for second, David Freese struck out on a 3-2 pitch. Holliday did not get a good jump, so he was trapped in a rundown. As second baseman Derek Dietrich threw to first baseman Logan Morrison, Beltran raced for home.

The left-handed Morrison whirled and fired home, but his throw got away from catcher Jeff Mathis and Beltran slid safely across.

"When Matt stopped, I knew I had to go. There were already two outs," Beltran said. "I had to find the perfect moment to try to go home, and when the ball was tossed to first base, I just felt that was the first moment for me to go because (Morrison) is a lefty.

"In order for him to throw, he had to make a turn. It was going to give me a little bit of a chance to try to get there. Thank God I was able to slide, and I made it. ... I guess I was the difference in the game today."

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Holliday was sent to second in an attempt to stay out of a possible double play. St. Louis has grounded into 91 twin killings, the most in the NL.

"We had already given him the signal to take off, so he needed to," Matheny said. "The idea was to stay out of the double play more than worrying about the strikeout. It was well-executed as far as Carlos' portion was involved, and Matt did a nice job. That was all he could do."

Beltran said his tender knees are feeling strong, although he has been hampered recently with a sore right oblique.

Beltran, however, looked like a 25-year-old when he made a long diagonal run before making a sliding catch on the foul line to rob Mathis of a hit to lead off the ninth.

"I thought that was going to be close --fair or foul," Beltran said. "But I didn't know where it was going to go. As soon as that ball was hit, the jump that I got, I felt like I was going to have a chance to slide. It was a good play. Any time you make a play like that and save the first guy from getting on, it's good."

Craig has played plenty of right field in his career and acknowledged the play's degree of difficulty.

"He came a long way to get that ball. It was not an easy catch," Craig said.

Matheny summarized Beltran's performance in all facets.

"He did a real nice job of pushing on a really hot day," he said.

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMWilhelm.

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