ST. LOUIS — The postseason legend of Carlos Beltran grew again Friday night and early Saturday morning.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ right fielder denied the Los Angeles Dodgers a go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning, then ended a 4-hour, 47-minute classic by rapping the game-winning single in the 13th for a 3-2 win and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 National League Championship Series.
Beltran, whose two-run double in the third tied the score at 2-2, worked the count to 3-1 against Los Angeles closer Kenley Jansen. Jumping all over a cutter down the middle, Beltran yanked it down the left-field line and Daniel Descalso scored easily from second as the remainder of a sellout crowd of 46,691 erupted.
“I was trying to hit the ball hard,” Beltran said. “I wasn’t really looking for anything else more than a hit.”
Beltran usually gets those when the calendar flips to October. He has nine of St. Louis’ 21 postseason RBIs and has knocked in 34 in 148 playoff at-bats to go along with 16 homers and a .345 batting average.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny saw four of Beltran’s playoff homers in the 2004 NLCS as the St. Louis catcher, so he’s eyeballed his postseason greatness from up close and personal.
“One of the best postseason performances I’ve ever seen,” Matheny said of Beltran in 2004. “Just fun to watch him do his thing, whether it’s offensively or the big throw he made defensively. The guy is a player.”
Beltran’s 1:25 a.m. game-winner wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t display the foresight to call center fielder Jon Jay off a ball which the wing outfielder normally won’t take.
With Mark Ellis at third after a one-out triple and Hanley Ramirez at first after an intentional walk, replacement first baseman Michael Young — Adrian Gonzalez was removed for pinch-runner Dee Gordon after a leadoff walk in the eighth — lofted a fly ball to medium right-center.
Beltran waved Jay off the ball, circled for about six steps to get a running start on the play and made an accurate throw home. Yadier Molina blocked the plate and Ellis was easily out.
“I felt like I was going to have a better angle,” Beltran said. “Jon was able to hear me and leave it up to me. Once I caught it, I was hoping to make a good throw to home. I saw Yadier in the crouch waiting for the ball and I thought we were going to have a chance.”
Young killed another rally in the 12th when he bounced into a 6-3 double play with men at first and second after another intentional walk to Ramirez.
Dodger manager Don Mattingly insisted that he didn’t regret removing Gonzalez for a pinch-runner.
“You’ve got to shoot your bullet when you get a chance,” Mattingly said. “It didn’t work out for us. We’re trying to win a game. That’s why we brought Dee on the club.”
Lance Lynn, the seventh St. Louis pitcher, earned the win with two shutout innings, capping a seven-inning, no-run effort from the bullpen.
With one out in the bottom of the 13th, Descalso flared a single to center field off losing pitcher Chris Withrow and Matt Carpenter drew a walk. Mattingly opted for Jansen at that point, but Beltran foiled that strategy.
Old postseason reliable Juan Uribe gave the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the third by grounding a two-run single up the middle, scoring Hanley Ramirez and Gonzalez. Uribe lifted Los Angeles into the NLCS with a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning on Monday night against Atlanta.
However, Beltran got St. Louis on even ground in its half of the third. After pitcher Joe Kelly singled with two outs and Carpenter walked, Beltran rifled a two-run double over the leaping Andre Ethier and off the center field wall.
That was all the damage the Cardinals managed off Zack Greinke, who gave up just four hits and two runs over eight brilliant innings, walking one and whiffing 10. Kelly wasn’t as spectacular, but turned in six solid innings, scattering six hits and giving up two runs while walking two and striking out five.
It became a bullpen tug-of-war as night turned into early morning. Beltran, as he’s done so often in October, settled it with one swing of his bat.
“I try not to keep up with the numbers,” he said. “When you try to keep up with the numbers, you could get caught out there trying to do a lot of bad things. Understand that this is not about me. It’s about the team.”
NOTES: St. Louis 1B Allen Craig (Lisfranc sprain), who led the team in RBIs with 97 before getting injured on Sept. 4 in Cincinnati, was left off the 25-man roster. He’s hoping to be available for the World Series, where he could serve as a designated hitter in American League parks. … Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly left off LHP relievers Paco Rodriguez and Chris Capuano to add RHPs Carlos Marmol and Edinson Volquez to the bullpen. It leaves the Dodgers with just one left-hander, J.P. Howell, in the bullpen against the lefty-leaning Cardinals lineup. … Los Angeles will start LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 3 and RHP Ricky Nolasco in Game 4. St. Louis hasn’t decided whether to start RHPs Lynn or Shelby Miller in Game 4.