Carlos Ivan Beltran was born on April 24, 1977, in Manati, Puerto Rico. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) Carlos already had an older brother, Nino. Twin sisters, Marie Liz and Liz Marie, arrived several years later. Carlos’s parents, Wilfredo and Carmen, were hard-working folks totally focused on their kids.
Wil, as he was known, worked in shipping and receiving in a pharmaceutical company warehouse. Among the wisdom he imparted on his kids was "tell the truth and be honest." Carmen—called “Mimin” by friends and family—remained at home, looking after the kids and helping make ends meet.
The Beltrans lived in a modest house on a side street in Manati. The family was by no means wealthy, but they didn't struggle for the necessities, either. At Christmas, Carlos and his brother and sisters always got what they wanted.
Their hometown, near the city of Arecibo on the northern coast of the island, was a short drive from the Atlantic Ocean. Puerto Rico’s warm climate afforded Carlos and his siblings every opportunity to get outside and develop their athletic talents. Carlos loved baseball and played with Nino whenever possible. He got his first taste of real competition as a 10-year-old in Little League. His team won the Puerto Rican championship, a memory that Carlos holds dear to this day.
Each winter, the Beltrans rooted for the major leaguers who suited up for Arecibo in the Puerto Rican League, particularly native Puerto Ricans like Candy Maldonado, Orlando Merced and Jose Oquendo. San Juan native Bernie Williams, signed by the New York Yankees as a teenager in 1986, also played for Arecibo. He became Carlos’s favorite player. Long before fans in the Bronx came to appreciate Williams’s all-around game, Carlos and his brother were in awe of the switch-hitting centerfielder.
As a kid, Carlos would tell his mom that he would grow up to be a star in the majors one day. That was one of few topics on which he expressed his views. Quiet and reserved, Carlos was not particularly excitable or talkative.
By the time Carlos entered Fernando Callejas High School, it was apparent that his goal of reaching the big leagues was more than a pipe dream. The teenager—though still raw in his skills—was fast and strong, a prototypical five-tool player. He started his career as a shortstop and switched to centerfield at age 15 when a teammate on his youth team missed a game. By his senior season in the spring of 1995, scouts knew about him, and several teams were interested in drafting him.
The Kansas City Royals selected Carlos in the second round of the June ’95 draft and assigned him to their team in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. A right-handed hitter and thrower, the 18-year-old acquitted himself quite well in his first year of pro ball—despite still learning to speak English. In 50 games, he batted .278 and showed great range in centerfield. Baseball America named him among the GCL’s top 10 prospects. Carlos got an even bigger thrill that winter when he played with Williams in the Puerto Rican league.
Carlos's first season was all the more remarkable considering how miserable he was in the U.S. Hopelessly homesick, he cried his eyes out on a regular basis. The youngster spoke no English and survived on a diet of fast food.
The following year, Carlos surprised the Royals by arriving in camp ready to swing from the left side. Taking a page out of his idol’s book, he thought switch-hitting looked like fun. The Kansas City brass didn't dissuade him, realizing that as a lefty Carlos would be able to leg out more infield hits and turn singles into doubles and doubles into triples.
Carlos began the 1996 campaign with Lansing of the Class-A Midwest League. When he floundered in his first few weeks, the Royals moved him to Spokane of the short-season Northwest League. There he settled into a comfortable groove. Displaying the full spectrum of his talents, Carlos collected eight doubles, three triples and seven home runs, stole 10 bases, and drove in 29 runs. Though he struck out twice as much as he walked and made too many mental mistakes in the outfield, the teenager put himself on the organization’s fast track.
Along with Carlos Febles and Jeremy Giambi, the Royals felt they had a solid nucleus of youngsters who would mature into big-time contributors in the big leagues. Carlos was one of the centerpieces of the club’s rebuilding plan. Baseball America rated him as the team ’s second-best minor leaguer.
In 1997, Carlos looked forward to his first full season in the pros. Playing for the Wilmington Blue Rocks, in the more challenging Class-A Carolina League, he gave the Royals more than a glimpse of his considerable potential. While Carlos struggled to hit the breaking ball, his swing from both sides of the plate continued to develop. He was finding gaps more often and becoming more of a power threat. At the same time, Carlos began understanding how useful his speed could be, particularly in chasing down flyballs. At the end of the ’97 campaign, he was recognized as the best defensive outfielder in the Carolina League.
ON THE RISE
Heading into the spring of 1998, Royals fans wondered how their team would avoid the first 100-loss season in franchise history. In the growing divide between big-market and small-market clubs, Kansas City was cascading to the bottom of the valley. The team had a handful of good players—including Kevin Appier, Tim Belcher, Jeff King, Dean Palmer and Jose Offerman—but couldn’t afford to seed its lineup with established stars. Instead, the Royals looked to accelerate talent from their farm system.
Carlos started ’98 back in Wilmington, but he wasn’t long for the Carolina League. After a torrid June—he hit .323. with three homers and 20 RBIs, and was named Player of the Month—the Royals promoted him to the Wichita Wranglers of the Class AA Texas League.
With the Wranglers, Carlos was phenomenal. In 47 games, he showed newfound discipline at the plate, batting .352 with 14 home runs and 44 RBIs. He also scored 50 runs and raised his slugging average to .687.
In Kansas City, the Royals were barely keeping their heads above water. Manager Tony Muser was getting all he could out of neophyte pitchers like Glendon Rusch and Jose Rosado, while the veterans were doing their part. Still, the club had a woeful record.
In September, Kansas City purchased Carlos’s contract. He made his debut against the Oakland A’s and got his first hit off Buddy Groom. A week later, he became the 15th Royal to hit two triples in a game. In less than a month, Carlos batted .276, swiped three bases and roamed all over the outfield. Meanwhile, Muser was lauded for leading Kansas City to a 72-90 finish.
As spring training opened in 1999, Carlos was told by the KC manager that the centerfield job was there for the taking. The rookie responded by hitting .326 in exhibition play and catching everything hit near him. Muser installed him as his starter. With Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye flanking Carlos, the Royals fielded one of the most talented young outfields in baseball.
The rest of lineup included a couple of promising players in Febles, first sacker Mike Sweeney and third baseman Joe Randa, in his second tour of duty with KC after stints with four other organizations.
The Kansas City pitching staff had significantly less to offer, with little depth beyond the veteran Appier. Predictably, that lack of arms doomed the Royals, who tied a franchise record with 97 losses in ’99. The bullpen was particularly bad, registering more blown saves (30) than saves (29). The bright spot for Kansas City was the combined performance of Carlos, Damon and Dye. Together they led all big-league starting outfield trios with 546 hits, 108 doubles, 24 triples, 298 RBIs and 41 assists.
Carlos was perhaps the biggest surprise of the three. Less than a year removed from Double-A ball, he broke from the gate quickly, and then played with the ease of a veteran. On April 10 in Chicago, Carlos belted his first big-league home run off Jaime Navarro of the White Sox. Later in the month, he churned out a 12-game hitting streak. In May, Carlos doubled three times against the Seattle Mariners. Several weeks later, he launched two homers in a game versus the Cincinnati Reds.
At the All-Star break, Carlos boasted a .302 average with 12 HRs and 59 RBIs. Convinced he had a special player on his hands, Muser inserted his rookie into the three-hole in the batting order. Carlos never flinched and continued to produce impressive numbers at the plate. By the campaign’s conclusion, he was an easy choice as AL Rookie of the Year. Carlos—who batted .298 with 22 homers, 108 RBIs, seven triples and 27 stolen bases—received 26 of 28 first-place votes. The Sporting News, Baseball America and Baseball Digest also recognized him as the league’s top newcomer.
Carlos found out about the awards while on his honeymoon. He and his new wife, Jessica, were on a cruise when the news arrived.
Despite his spectacular rookie campaign, Carlos did have his problems, mostly in the field. Though he led the AL with 395 outfield putouts and set a Royals rookie record with 16 assists, his concentration lapsed at times. In April, Muser benched him for a game after he booted a bases-loaded single off the bat of Magglio Ordonez, and then loafed after the ball. His mistake cost KC the game.
Kansas City fans overlooked Carlos’s defensive miscues—until he suffered through the sophomore jinx in 2000. AL pitchers quickly learned the youngster’s primary weakness: the breaking pitch. For the first half of the ’00 season, they fed him one bender in the dirt after another, and Carlos bit every time. His average heading into late May hovered just above .200. Muser dropped him in the order to the seventh spot.
The rest of the team was limping along, too. On their way to another last-place finish in the Central Division, the Royals again struggled to find consistent starting pitching and capable relievers. While Damon, Dye and Sweeney all enjoyed good seasons, and Randa had another good year at third, it was rare that KC outscored opponents.
Carlos finally began to turn things around in June. He scored a career-high four runs against the Boston Red Sox to start the month and closed it out with a two-homer game versus the Cleveland Indians—the first time he went deep from both sides of the plate in the same contest.
But in July, Carlos was forced to the bench with a bruised knee. The injury sparked a series of events that caused many in the KC organization to question his attitude. On the advice of his agent, Scott Boras, Carlos refused a rehab assignment in Florida. The move incensed the Royals brass—not to mention more than a few teammates—and the centerfielder was suspended for nearly a month. After being reinstated in August, Carlos spent a couple of weeks in the minors, and then returned to the team for the final 22 games. He finished the year with seven homers and a .247 average in just over 400 plate appearances.
MAKING HIS MARK
Carlos entered 2001 needing to repair his image. The Royals helped by scheduling a host of media interviews. Though he wasn’t always comfortable dealing with reporters, he said all the right things and diffused the controversy that had enveloped him the summer before.
Physically, Carlos was in the best shape of his life. During the offseason, he had trained with Jessica in a Florida health club. He also played winter ball for Bayamon and nearly led Puerto Rico to the Caribbean World Series title. Carlos hit two dramatic home runs during the tournament and batted over .400. He also learned some important lessons about maturity from veteran teammates Edgar Martinez and Carlos Baerga.
Over the winter, the Royals also did some retooling, completing a three-way deal that sent Damon to Oakland and brought in closer Roberto Hernandez from Tampa Bay. The loss of Damon meant that Carlos would be the club’s new table-setter. After his CWS slugging heroics, he didn’t relish the thought of having to work his way on base.
Hitting behind Carlos in the lineup were Dye, Sweeney and Randa, giving the Royals plenty of offensive firepower. As always, pitching was Muser’s biggest headache. Though Hernandez shored up the bullpen, the rotation was anchored by Rosado and Brian Meadows, neither of whom was a Cy Young candidate. The Royals were awful again in ’01, posting the second worst record (65-97) in baseball.
For Carlos, the good news was an excellent bounce-back season. Leading the team in batting average (.306), runs (106), RBIs (101) and steals (31), he was named the Royals Player of the Year. At 24, he was the youngest player to win the award since George Brett in 1976. Carlos was particularly effective after the All-Star break. His .358 average ranked behind only Jason Giambi (.367) and Frank Catalanotto (.358), and he topped the majors in hits and RBIs over the season’s final 30 days. Included in his second-half outburst were the first two grand slams of his career.
The 2002 campaign was another woeful year for the Royals. For the first time in franchise history, they dropped 100 games. Poor pitching—despite the presence of 17-game winner Paul Byrd and 26 saves from Hernandez—was the culprit. The staff had the second highest ERA (5.21) in the league.
The offense did its best to keep Kansas City in games. Sweeney contended for the batting crown all year long, Randa drove in at least 80 runs for the fourth season in a row, and Raul Ibanez broke through as a legitimate run producer. Carlos was also a major contributor.
Joining Hal McRae and Al Cowens as just the third Royal to appear in 162 games, he led the club in every significant offensive category, including runs (114), hits (174), doubles (44), triples (7), home runs (29), RBIs (105) and stolen bases (35). Again, Carlos was at his best during the dog days of summer. He collected 91 of his hits in the second half, and 17 of his homers came after the All-Star break. Carlos was also named AL Co-Player of the Week in mid-July (with Ibanez) after batting better than .400 in 36 at-bats.
No one in Kansas City had any reason to expect anything but another dismal season in 2003. Though Tony Pena had taken the reins as manager, the club looked thin just about everywhere. The pitching rotation lacked experience and an ace, while the bullpen relied on young Mike MacDougal as the closer. The outlook on offense was a bit more optimistic, though Sweeney’s health was in doubt. The team knew what it would get out of Randa, and Pena hoped for solid contributions from newcomers Desi Relaford, Michael Tucker, Ken Harvey and Angel Berroa, who had been acquired a year earlier in the Damon trade. And, of course, there was Carlos, who had established himself as a bona fide star.
Whether he would be around all season was another issue. Carlos’s ’03 salary was $6 million, and in 2004 he stood to earn at least $7.5 million. The cash-strapped Royals offered him a three-year, $25 million deal, but Boras advised him to reject it.
That decision appeared questionable when Carlos started the campaign injured, and then went hitless in his first 16 at-bats. But his teammates picked up the slack, and the Royals emerged as baseball’s early-season feel-good story. Pena literally picked his Opening Day starter with a coin flip—Runelvys Hernandez won the toss over Jeremy Affeldt. The pair beat the White Sox in back-to-back games, and then KC won seven more. It was the first time in 16 years that a team began a year with nine straight victories. Berroa was making a push for Rookie of the Year, and Sweeney, Relaford and Tucker were providing excellent leadership on and off the field.
The Royals stayed in the thick of the race heading into June. That’s when the injury bug hit. Sweeney was placed on the DL with a bad back, and Hernandez and fellow starter Miguel Asencio also were lost. Amazingly, in stepped Jose Lima, rescued off the scrap heap after beginning the year with the Newark Bears. Over the next six weeks, he won six times against an ERA of 2.42.
Carlos also stepped it up. In June, he batted over .300, drove in 19 runs and stole 11 bases. He surpassed those numbers the following month, as the Royals climbed back to the top of the Central with a 63-54 mark. Carlos was doing it with his glove, too. On July 19, he robbed Seattle’s Dan Wilson of a home run with a spectacular catch in a 5-1 victory. The next day he belted his first career walk-off homer to give Kansas City a 7-5 win.
hyperextended right elbow sidetracked him temporarily, but Carlos fought
through the pain. In fact, he piled up impressive stats in August and
September, as Kansas City battled with Minnesota and Chicago for the division
lead. Ultimately, however, the Twins distanced themselves from the pack.
Still, at 83-79, the Royals had nothing to be ashamed of.
Neither did Carlos. Again, he was Kansas City’s leader in average (.307), runs (102), triples (10), home runs (26), RBIs (100), walks (72) and stolen bases (41). In turn, he became just the sixth player in big league history to record three seasons with 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 30 steals, joining Barry Bonds, George Sisler, Honus Wagner, Kiki Cuyler and Ty Cobb.
After his ’03 season, the talk in Kansas City was to sign Carlos to a long-term contract, whatever the cost. Sweeney, a vocal critic of Royals management, stated publicly that his teammate was a once-in-a-decade talent. Obviously, Boras felt the same way, which meant his asking price was going to be astronomical. For a cash-strapped team like Kansas City, this was truly an unworkable equation.
The Royals knew this better than anyone, and in June Carlos was shipped to Houston. The deal also involved the A's, as Kansas City wound up with a trio of highly regarded prospects. The Astros paid a steep price for Carlos, giving up closer Octavio Dotel. But the team was struggling after a hot start, and management gambled that the speedy switch-hitter would energize the club. Carlos took over in center and was installed in the third spot in the batting order.
Shortly after his arrival, controversy erupted. Carlos was chosen as a reserve All-Star, but for the American League. The Commissioner's office initially ruled he could remain on the team, but not appear in the game. When Ken Griffey Jr. went down with an injury, however, National League skipper Jack McKeon lobbied to have Carlos added to his roster, and baseball relented. Carlos entered the game in the fourth inning as a pinch-hitter, singled in his first at-bat and then remained in the contest.
Heading into the second half at 44-44, the Astros had un uphill climb to make the playoffs. Management decided to take more bold action, firing manager Jimy Williams and replacing him with Phil Garner. Initially, the move did nothing to energize the club. Houston's pitching was ailing from injuires to Andy Pettitte and Wade Miller, and Jeff Bagwell was one of several Astros struggling at the plate.
On August 14, at a season-low four games under .500, Houston faced the do-or-die point in its campaign. With the St. Louis Cardinals running away with the division, the team's only hope was the Wild Card. But catching the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants wouldn't be easy.
Working in Houston's favor were two things: the leadership of Roger Clemens and Carlos's rising star. The Rocket gave Garner a chance to win every time he took the mound, while Carlos heated up under the pressure of the playoff chase. The Astros closed the year on an amazing 36-10 run, including a 19-2 record at home. When the Cubs and Giants slumped in the season's final week, Houston surged in front of them and captured the league's fourth and final postseason spot.
Carlos was key. In the second half, he hit 23 home runs and added 70 runs and 28 stolen bases. His blend of speed and power was just what the Houston offense needed.
Eager for his first shot in the playoffs, Carlos took his game to a new level. In the NLDS, he almost single-handedly defeated the Atlanta Braves. Carlos homered in all three of Houston's victories, including two blasts that spearheaded a 12-3 win in the decisive Game 5. He finished the series with a .455 batting average, four homers, nine RBIs and nine runs scored.
Carlos continued his hitting barrage in the NLCS against the Cardinals. He battered St. Louis pitching in the first two games, but the Cards still won both contests at home. When the series shifted to Houston, Carlos helped rally his club to three straight victories. He belted an insurance home run in Game 3, and then clubbed a homer in the seventh inning of Game 4 that proved the difference in a 6-5 victory. The following night, his glove would be the weapon of choice. Carlos made two highlight-reel catches, one that robbed Edgar Renteria of extra bases and the other while backpedaling up the hill in center. With the contest scoreless in the bottom of the ninth, Carlos got things started with a single to left. Three batters later he scored the winning run on Jeff Kent’s three-run homer.
Back in St. Louis, the Cardinals flexed their muscles again, using the home crowd to propel them to a pair of wins. Part of the Cards' strategy was to prevent Carlos from beating them. On cue, he was walked three times in the final two games.
Still, Carlos's postseason performance will be remembered for a long time. In all, he set six records: two in a LCS (11 runs and four HRs) and four for the playoffs overall (20 runs, eight HRs, 11 extra-base hits and 47 total bases). He also hit at a .435 clip and played a sparkling centerfield.
Over the winter, for those with a short memory, Boras ensured that Carlos's numbers were etched in stone. Indeed, the swtich-hitting outfielder vaulted himself to the top of the free-agent class. Initially, the list of suitors for Carlos included more than a half a dozen teams. But it was eventually culled down to three: the Astros and the two New York clubs, the Mets and Yankees.
Houston appeared to have the inside track. Working on a deadline of midnight on January 8, the Astros put together an attractive deal worth more than $100 million. But Carlos was dead-set on a contract with a no-trade clause, a condition which Houston refused. That made the Mets a bigger player in the negotiations, with the Yankees and George Steinbrenner's checkbook looming in the background. New GM Omar Minaya upped his offer to seven years at $119 million (and the no-trade clause), before Boras went back to the Bronx with a final proposal. When the Yanks balked, Carlos became a Met—not to mention a very rich man.
As the newest star to graduate to baseball's big-market stratosphere, Carlos faced the stiffest challenge of his playing career. In a town where the fans and media demand nothing less than perfection, he was the center of attention on a club looking to re-establish itself as one of the game's major powers in 2005.
That didn’t happen, and Carlos shouldered much of the blame. He failed to hit consistently much of the year, and a sore right quad kept him from racking up the stolen base totals Mets fans were told to expect. The team kept waiting for Carlos to come around, but the only excitement that he generated was on the days Pedro Martinez—New York’s other major off-season addition—was pitching. He hit more than half of his 16 homers with the former Cy Young winner on the mound.
The final smudge on a forgettable season occurred in an August game when Carlos collided at full speed with rightfielder Mike Cameron. While Carlos suffered cuts and a sore shoulder, Cameron took the full force of the impact in his face and was lost for the year. Ironically, this is when the Mets mounted a mini-run that had fans thinking they might have a shot at the Wild Card. New York did finish over .500, but the club was never really a serious postseason threat.
Carlos helped change that script in 2006. He set new career highs with 41 home runs and 116 RBIs. He received a Gold Glove, the Silver Slugger Award, was voted an All-Star, and came in fourth in the MVP voting. Budding stars David Wright and Jose Reyes had big years, Carlos Delgado had a solid season at the plate, the pitching held up fairly well, and the Mets improved to 97-65 to win the NL East. With the exception of one day, they held first place all season long.
In the first round of the playoffs, the Mets faced the Los Angeles Dodgers. New York swept them in three straight games and advanced to the NLCS where they faced the Cardinals. The Mets took Game 1, but the Cards bounced back to take the next two. New York knotted the series in Game 4, with Carlos belting a pair of solo homers and scoring four runs in a 9–5 victory.
The Cardinals won Game 5, sending the series back to New York. The Mets won Game 6 and grabbed the momentum heading into the finale. In Game 7, it looked like a done deal after Endy Chavez leaped over the fence to rob Scott Rolen of a home run. However, the Cardinals wouldn't back down. Yadier Molina cranked a two-run homer in the top of the 9th to give St. Louis a 3–1 lead.
With the pennant hanging in the balance, the Mets put two runners on against young closer Adam Wainwright. Cliff Floyd struck out looking, and Reyes lined out to center. Paul Lo Duca kept the inning alive with a walk, and the stage was set for Carlos. Any kind of hit would tie the score. A home run would send New York to the World Series. Carlos took a called strike and then fouled off the next pitch. Wainwright spun a curve over on 0–2, and Carlos never lifted the bat off his shoulder. The Mets’ season of promise was over. The fans never forgave Carlos.
In 2007, Carlos had yet another impressive season, belting 33 home runs and driving in 112 runs. He was voted an All-Star again and won Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards for the second straight year. The Mets looked like a sure bet for the playoffs, giving them a chance to redeem themselves for the previous year. On September 12, they led the Phillies by seven games but won only five more for the remainder of the season. Philadelphia passed them up, claiming first place on the last day of the season.
The 2008 campaign was another good one for Carlos. He hit 27 home runs, stole 25 bases in 28 attempts, and drove in 112 runs. For the third straight year, he was voted onto the All-Star team. The Mets, however, spit the bit for the third year in a row. They relinquished a solid lead in the last month of the season and lost to the Florida Marlins in the final game when a win would of secured a Wild Card berth.
In 2009, things began to go completely off the rails for Carlos and the Mets. He played half the year due to a right knee injury that kept him out from late June to early September. The 81 games he did play were encouraging, however. He Hit .325 with 48 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. Despite moving from Shea to CitiField, the team finished with an unimpressive record of 70-92.
In January of 2010, Carlos had surgery performed on his knee by his own surgeon. He expected to be ready by some time in April, but he did not play his first game until July 15. The Mets claimed they did not authorize the surgery; they would have preferred for Carlos to rehab the knee. He missed most of the season, only playing 64 games. The Mets finished below .500 once again.
The last year of Carlos's contract was 2011, so the Mets were prepared to trade him as soon as they dropped out of the playoff race. Carlos was not quite the player he’d been at full strength, but he performed well enough for the Mets to extract pitching prospect Zach Wheeler from the offense-starved San Francisco Giants. The Mets had to kick in $4 million to pay the rest of Carlos’s salary. With the Giants, he raisedhis average from .286 to .300 and finished the year with 22 homers and 84 RBIs in 156 games. He was also voted an All-Star for the sixth time in his career.
In 2012, Carlos became a free agent. The market was cautious when evalutating him. The Cardinals eventually signed Carlos to a two-year deal. They were coming off their unlikely victory in the 2011 World Series, but Albert Pujols had left to play for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, St. Louis needed someone to plug the hole in the middle of the batting order. The Cards decided to take a gamble on Carlos.
That gamble paid off handsomely, to say the least. Carlos settled into right field—and was fully embraced by the St. Louis faithful. He responded with a torrid start. In May, Carlos went on one of his patented home run binges, with three-multi-dinger games in a 10-day span. He hit his 20th by the end of June and was picked for the All-Star game for the seventh time in his career. Carlos finished the season with 32 homers 97 RBIs, making it his best season since 2008. More important, he replaced the power production lost with the departure of Pujols, leading the club in round-trippers—two more than Albert hit for the Angels in 2012.
The Cards made the playoffs and beat the Braves in the Wild Card round. Next they defeated the Nationals in five games in the NLDS. Carlos tortured Washington pitching, going 8-for-18 with two homers and five walks. It took a four-run ninth-inning rally in the final game to win the series. Carlos ignited that amazing inning with a leadoff double against closer Drew Storen.
The Cardinals kept on rolling as the NLCS started, They took a commanding lead on the Giants, but could not put them away. San Francisco mounted a thrilling comeback to win the pennant with three decisive victories. Carlos was one of only two St. Louis regulars to bat .300 in the series.
Carlos logged another solid season in 2013, at the age of 36. He led the team again with 24 home runs and batted .298 in 145 games. The Cardinals won the NL Central with 97 victories—most in the NL. This time St. Louis did not falter in the playoffs. The Cards notched an impressive comeback against the Pirates in the NLDS, and then beat the Dodgers in six games to win the pennant. Carlos had two homers and six RBIs against the Bucs and knocked in six more runs against LA. Finally, after 16 years, Carlos would play in his first Fall Classic.
In the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, Carlos had less success. He managed a .294 batting average with three RBIs, but his performance dipped after making the defensive play of the postseason with a rib-crunching catch to rob David Ortiz of a grand slam in Game 1. Unfortunately for St. Louis fans, Ortiz went on to have an epic series at the plate, and Boston took the series in six games.
After the series, Carlos began looking for a new team. The Cardinals would be set in the outfield in 2014 with Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Pete Bourjos, Oscar Tavares and Allen Craig—who the team needed to shift in order to give Matt Adams more games at first base. It didn’t take long to figure out who had targeted Carlos. The Yankees needed a dependable slugger who would not cause commotion in the clubhouse, and who they could sign for a relatively short stay. The final deal was $45 million for three years—not a bargain perhaps, but a move New York had to make. With the additional signings of Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury, the team could now tend to its other need: pitching.
For Carlos, the move to New York may be just the final push he needs to solidify his candidacy for Cooperstown. Getting that elusive World Series ring may actually turn out to be the tougher propostion.
CARLOS THE PLAYER
The term “five-tool player” is often overused in baseball. Not in Carlos’s case. He can hit for average and power, run the bases, field his position and throw out runners. One of Carlos’s strength is his ability to switch-hit—a skill he taught himself to do. His numbers are better versus righties, but that’s partly a product of opportunities. There are far fewer lefthanders in the league.
Carlos is an aggressive hitter who likes fastballs. On the basepaths, he is one of history’s most efficient base stealers. He also knows when to take the extra base, and rarely is gunned down doing so.
As a rightfielder, Carlos has few peers defensively. He played very deep, using speed and good footwork to handle the short stuff. He is always in good position to make a throw. If his sometimes-balky knee begins acting up, the Yankees can keep him in the lineup as a DH.
Something Carlos hasn’t lost with age is perhaps his most valuable asset—the ability to carry a team.
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