Out of the hospital, into the batter's box: Beltran's return helps Cardinals

BOSTON -- The Red Sox are good, but the Red Sox have also been fortunate.

They faced the Rays when Evan Longoria was hurting and not able to be himself. They faced the Tigers when Miguel Cabrera was hurting and not able to be himself.

Now it's the Cardinals, and Carlos Beltran leaves after two innings of Game 1 with a rib injury serious enough to send him to the hospital for tests.

Serious enough to send him to the hospital, but not serious enough to keep him out of the Game 2 lineup. And not serious enough to keep him from getting two hits and contributing to a 4-2 Cardinals win.

Hanley Ramirez hurt his ribs and got two hits the rest of the series. Carlos Beltran hurt his ribs and got two hits the very next day.

"His name is Carlos Beltran," Cardinals hitting coach John Mabry said. "He's watching video of you watching video."

The Cardinals are such big Beltran believers that they basically believe he can do anything. They believe so much that many of them figured he'd find a way to get himself into Thursday's lineup, even though Beltran himself wasn't so sure.

"When I left the ballpark [Wednesday], I had very little hope that I was going to be in the lineup with the way I felt," he said.

But time and treatment and a shot of Toradol helped, and by Thursday afternoon Beltran was able to show the Cardinals he could swing a bat. The doctors told Beltran the Toradol would block out some of the pain for five or six hours, and it blocked enough of it.

The Beltran who played Thursday may not have been Beltran at his best, but it was close enough.

"Here's the deal," Mabry said. "Even if he is compromised, Carlos Beltran at 75 percent or even 50 percent is still dangerous. If he says he's 50 percent, you let him go."

He didn't say that. He said he was good enough to go, especially in a World Series he had waited through 16 seasons to finally play in.

He was going to play if it was at all possible. Then again, that's pretty much the way Beltran thinks every day, which is why he's still getting 600 plate appearances a year in his mid-30s, and why he's still a postseason force.

"I always would love to choose to play," he said. "Because that's what I love to do."

Not all injuries are created alike, and there's no way to say if Beltran is compromised as much as Longoria or Cabrera were. Not all rib injuries are alike (Ramirez had a hairline fracture after being hit by a Joe Kelly pitch).

But even if you're not comparing Beltran to anyone else, the facts are still that he spent part of Wednesday night at the hospital and came back Thursday and had two big hits. A Cardinals team that still doesn't know whether it will have Allen Craig in the lineup for the next three games ("I don't know," Craig said Thursday night, when he was asked if he'd be able to play in the field in games where there will be no designated hitter) can sure use whatever Beltran can provide.

They weren't sure what he could provide. They were sure he would provide whatever he possibly could.

"I was pretty sure if the guy could swing, he would be in the lineup," Daniel Descalso said. "The guy is a competitor, a gamer. I was keeping my fingers crossed.

"I'm just glad he's OK. It could have been a lot worse."

That's true. Beltran had to go to the hospital after crashing into the right-field wall while catching a David Ortiz fly ball, but he didn't need to stay there overnight. He had to have both X-rays and a CT scan done, but both were negative.

He needed plenty of treatment, and he needed that shot of Toradol, but he was able to convince the medical people and the baseball people that he should be allowed to play.

He had two hits, and he helped the Cardinals to their first win in this World Series. He expected to be sore on Friday, but he also noted that there is no game scheduled for Friday.

"Hopefully on Saturday," he said, "I feel better than what I feel today."

Saturday is when the Cardinals and Red Sox will play Game 3 in St. Louis. Based on everything we've seen, it will be no surprise if Beltran is ready to play.

And no surprise if he is ready to hit.

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