On Saturday night, all that work three years ago paid off as Beltran made a saving, circus catch before hitting the go-ahead single in the 17th inning of the New York Mets' 5-3 win over Houston.
"When I was in Houston I took flies with (first base coach) Chao (Jose) Cruz almost every day, working on that hill," he said. "You work on that, but you don't know if it's going to happen in the game."
It was the Mets' longest game since 1993 and the 17 innings matched the most in the majors this season -- the Dodgers and Padres also played that many in April.
Houston threatened to win it in the 14th, putting a runner on third with two outs. Luke Scott launched a long drive to center field and Beltran ran up the grass hill and caught the ball while falling down.
"Carlos made an unbelievable catch out in center field on that crazy hill out there," manager Willie Randolph said. "I don't know why they try to be too creative in these ballparks and build something silly like that."
As he watched Beltran race out to the hill, teammate David Wright thought about how glad he was that Beltran was familiar with the ballpark.
"Thankfully he played here for a little while, because if you don't play here for a little bit of time you don't make that play," Wright said. "Just him being here having that experience of playing that hill before definitely helped him make the play."
Said Scott of the play: "Considering the situation, it was about as good as it gets."
Although Beltran has mastered playing on the hill, he wouldn't include one if he ever gets the chance to design a ballpark.
"No way. Of course not," he said with a laugh.
In the 11th, Beltran ran a long way and jumped to catch Carlos Lee's long drive to the wall in right-center.
Beltran was 0-for-6 before his tiebreaking hit. Wright, whose solo homer in the seventh made it 3-all, followed with an RBI single.
"It was one of those classic games and it was great to win it -- to be a part of it," Randolph said.
It was the Mets' longest game since beating St. Louis 1-0 in 17 innings on Sept. 29, 1993. The Astros lost an 18-inning game against Pittsburgh last season.
These teams have played marathon games in the past.
The Mets beat Houston 7-6 in 16 innings at the Astrodome to win Game 6 of the 1986 NL Championship Series and advance to the World Series.
Back in 1968, the Mets and Astros played a 24-inning game that Houston won 1-0.
Aaron Sele (2-0) struck out two in two innings for this win. Former Astros closer Billy Wagner got his 17th save, ending a game that took five hours, 10 minutes. Wagner started warming up in the eighth inning and said he was worn out by the time he entered the game after throwing about 12 pitches each time he prepared to go.
"I was so dadgum goofy by the time I got in the game I didn't know what was going on," Wagner said.
Brian Moehler (1-3) took the loss.
The teams combined to use 16 pitchers. Tom Glavine, three wins shy of 300 for his career, started for the Mets and gave up three runs and five hits in seven innings.
All-Star Jose Reyes, benched in the eighth inning Friday night for failing to run out a groundball, drew a one-out walk in the 17th and sprinted to third on Ruben Gotay's hit-and-run single to left. Beltran followed with a sharp single to right.
Reyes, leading the majors in stolen bases, swiped the 200th base of his career in the 10th.
Burke got on base twice in extra innings for Houston. He singled in the 12th, moved up on a sacrifice and stole third, but was stranded when Brad Ausmus grounded out and Pence struck out.
In the 14th, Burke was hit by a pitch and eventually made it to third. Scott pinch-hit and nearly won it, but tossed his helmet in the air after Beltran made the catch.
"We had bunches of chances, we just didn't punch them across the board," Astros manager Phil Garner said.
- Craig Biggio got hit No. 3,013 on a broken-bat single in the fourth.
- Delgado's home run was the 421st of his career and gave him sole possession of 39th on the all-time list.
- Williams has allowed 21 homers, most in the NL.
- Wagner got his 341st save to tie Rollie Fingers for 8th place on the all-time list.