With his heart racing as if he were a rookie, Carlos Beltran played first base for the first time in his life Sunday night and said the same terrifying thought kept going through his mind:
"I hope they don't hit the ball to me."
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His wish was granted. Beltran spent five innings at first base in the Yankees' 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox, thanks to a strange string of injuries that depleted their bench, and fortunately for him, there were no grounders, no liners and no pop flies in his direction.
Beltran went 3-for-4 and homered for the second consecutive day, but anyone who was at Yankee Stadium will remember this night more for seeing the former Gold Glove centerfielder manning first base for the first time in 2,448 professional baseball games.
The only activity he had in five innings was covering the bag three times, and he did so successfully. He said that was more than enough action for him and breathed a sigh of relief when the experience was over, saying, "I hope I don't have to do it again."
The Yankees hope they're not in that situation, either.
It happened Sunday night only because the Yankees started the game without starting middle infielders Brian Roberts (back) and Derek Jeter (quadriceps) and then watched as first baseman Francisco Cervelli -- who really is their backup catcher -- injured a hamstring while running to first.
With Cervelli out, manager Joe Girardi felt he had only two options to play first, Beltran and Ichiro Suzuki. In the dugout, Girardi asked both of them if they had ever played the position before on any level. When they both said no, Girardi had to decide based on his eyes.
So Girardi chose Beltran, if only because he provided the bigger target at first base.
Beltran is listed at 6-1 and 210 pounds. Ichiro is generously said to be 5-11 and 170 pounds.
"If you looked at us both, you would see why he would be the better option," said Ichiro, who turned out to be a terrific option in rightfield when he made a circus catch in the eighth to rob David Ortiz of extra bases.
Girardi said Beltran didn't hesitate to agree to do so, but Beltran said he immediately worried about what he was getting himself into.
"I was just trying not to think about it," he said.
Beltran said he was surprised how fast the game looked from that vantage point, which only added to his nerves. But after an inning there, he said he started to calm down and think less.
But that doesn't mean he felt comfortable. Not in the least.
"Thank God," he said, "nobody hit the baseball to me."