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Carlos Beltran in the thick of the playoffs again

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran, left, slides

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran, left, slides into home plate past Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki for a run on a single by Matt Holliday in the eighth inning of Game 3 of the NLDS. (Oct. 10, 2012) Credit: AP

WASHINGTON -- Carlos Beltran has a detailed scouting report about the National League Championship Series, which his Cardinals are about to begin on the road against the Giants, his former team: "They're going to boo me like crazy, there's no doubt about that."

That is fine with him. He realizes it is good to be booed for your absence, especially if you are as much of a presence as he was for the Cardinals in their stunning NLDS win over the Nationals. He batted .444, including a leadoff double to start the ninth inning of Game 5 early Saturdaymorning against closer Drew Storen to spark a four-run burst and a 9-7 win.

"You know, down by two, we needed somebody to get on base in order to get the tying run to the plate," said Daniel Descalso, who eventually hit the two-out, two-run single that tied the score before Pete Kozma hit the deciding two-run single. "So that's a huge at-bat there by Carlos."

Beltran had more than a few huge contributions for the Cardinals, with whom he signed as a free agent last winter. He left the Giants, who had traded pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to pry him from the Mets. Starting Sunday night, Beltran will be back at AT&T Park in a series that matches the past two World Series champions.

"They have a good group of guys, they have a bunch of characters. They play as a team," he said of the Giants. "Last year, when I was there, we just couldn't do it. But being able to have Buster Posey in the lineup is a big plus."

Posey is the current National League batting champion whose absence because of an injury last season persuaded the Giants to go after Beltran. The latter hit .323 in 44 games for them, then decided to sign with the Cardinals. He was undaunted by the pressure of filling the void left by Cardinals icon Albert Pujols, who signed with the Angels.

"When I showed up for spring training, it was fun. The attitude that these guys have when they take the field, they believe in themselves. And at the same time, it's a good team," Beltran said at Nationals Park, still soaked with champagne. "I made my decision based on the opportunity to be playing in [these] type of games."

He has seen firsthand what the Cardinals can do in October. They beat his Astros team in 2004 despite a standout performance that helped earn him a big contract from the Mets. And he watched a climactic called third strike in 2006 as the Cardinals eliminated his Mets.

Beltran got off to an exceptional start with the Cardinals, then went into a big slide, hitting just over .200 from late June through early September.

"He did have a rough go, maybe one of the roughest he's ever had in his career. It was tough navigating through that, trying to figure out how to get him right and how to set him up to be successful again," manager Mike Matheny said, adding that some rest and Beltran's own professionalism turned him back around.

Beltran, 35, now looks rejuvenated at the plate and in rightfield. "He has been a joy to have on our team in every regard," the manager said, "somebody who is very well respected not just on our team but leaguewide."

Just maybe not in San Francisco Sunday night and Monday, but that's OK. Said Beltran, "I don't care about being booed in these types of games."


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