By Julian Linden
BOSTON (Reuters) - Carlos Beltran has always saved his best for last. In the postseason, when the pressure of Major League Baseball (MLB) is at its most suffocating, the slugger has proven himself one of the great clutch performers.
His postseason on-base percentage and slugging average is seventh in MLB history, but his individual efforts have not materialized in a title.
Until this season, his 16th in MLB, he had never even made it to the World Series. But now he is off to his first Fall Classic, as an outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals against the Boston Red Sox.
"I'm very fortunate to be in this position," Beltran told reporters after the Cardinals clinched their place by beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. "It's a great feeling to be able to come through and to be able to have this opportunity."
For Beltran, it has been a long and agonizing wait since he moved from his birthplace of Puerto Rico and made his MLB debut for the Kansas City Royals late in the 1998 season and earning NL rookie of the year honors in 1999.
Before this season, Beltran had been one win away from a World Series berth six times but lost them all. Each time, the Cardinals were involved.
In 2004, when he was playing for Houston, the Astros led the Cardinals three games to two, but could not close it out and St. Louis went to the World Series.
In 2006, Beltran was playing for the New York Mets. In Game Seven, the Cardinals won, with Beltran striking out looking in the final pitch of the series.
Beltran, now 36, joined the San Francisco Giants in 2011, a year after they won the World Series, but the Cardinals won the 2011 title.
Adopting the policy that if you can't beat them, then join them, Beltran signed with St. Louis in 2012. His long wait seemed over when the Redbirds led the Giants three games to one, but his hopes were dashed when San Francisco won the last three and went on to reclaim the World Series.
Only this year, did the stars finally line up for Beltran. "Being able to be part of this organization for these two years has been great," he said.
"It's allowed me to understand how they do things ... to get to know the guys, the organization and the way they think, and the way they handle their situation."
As an eight-time All-Star, Beltran is a likely future Hall of Famer but would love nothing more than to ice his career with a championship ring, something which has not been lost on his new teammates.
"I know they want it just as badly for all of us, as they do for any one particular person," said St. Louis manager Mike Matheny.
"But you see somebody who has had the caliber of career that Carlos has had and you don't get these opportunities very often.
"To be able to maximize it and hopefully be able to do something that his kind of career deserves is special to him. (It's) just an extra push."
(Reporting by Julian Linden; Editing by Frank Pingue)