The untimely demise of the "team of destiny" is complete, the advancement of the Rangers to their second consecutive league championship series is sealed, and two of the most terrifying hitters in the game right now will get to continue playing their deadly back-and-forth game of offensive one-upmanship -- a game where the only real loser stands 60 feet and six inches away atop a lonely mound of dirt. Because just when you were thinking really hard about handing the keys to the franchise over to Mike Napoli after what transpired in Games 2 and 3, something like that happens. Something that has sent the ball rifling back into Napoli's side of the court, demanding an equally great reciprocal response. Something that this franchise has never seen before, and will never want to unsee.
The 2011 major league post-season now belongs to Adrian Beltre. Of this, there can be no doubt.
In the second inning, he cranked a juicy middle-in Jeremy Hellickson fastball 413 feet deep into the climate-controlled distance. In the fourth inning, he slashed a less appealing middle-away Hellickson fastball 376 feet the other direction for his second home run of the afternoon. In the seventh inning, he pulled an up-and-away Matt Moore heater into the air and deposited it 377 feet away from home plate. To give you some kind of perspective on the kind of total home run distance that we're talking about here, the combined distance traveled by those three home runs (1,166 feet) would outsize the tallest skyscraper in the state of Texas by a good 160-plus feet.
By the time it was all over, his three solo home runs has proven decisive in a series-clinching 4-3 win, and not only gained him admittance to one of baseball's most select clubs (that is, the three-homers-in-a-playoff-game club, which is occupied by only five other players), but earned him a few more semi-obscure plaudits. From the inception of the divisional series up through the beginning of yesterday's games (1981-present), there had been 4,623 individual games where a hitter logged at least three plate appearances in a divisonal-series game. Only 35 of those games comprised at least two home runs, and none comprised as many as three ... well, before yesterday that is.
And if the knowledge of there being only six other three-homer games in post-season history just doesn't bring enough statistical meat to the table for your liking, try this: from the beginning of the 1903 World Series up through the beginning of yesterday's games, there had been 22,099 individual games where a hitter logged at least three plate appearances in a post-season game. That works out to a 1-in-3,683 shot of seeing a three-homer game out of any given hitter in a post-season game before yesterday -- and while I want to be clear in saying that the actual odds of Beltre pulling that feat off had to be substantially better than that (Beltre is, after all, a much better than average power-hitting threat), we're still dabbling in extreme long-shot territory here.
Apropos of nothing in particular: Four of the six teams -- the 1928 Yankees, 1971 Pirates, 1977 Yankees, and 2002 Angels -- that received a three-homer game from one of their players in a given post-season run went on to win the World Series. A fifth team -- the 1926 Yankees -- took the World Series down to a seventh game, and ended up losing by a single run after Babe Ruth, who had clubbed three home runs in Game 4, claimed the ignominious distinction of being the only player in baseball history to end a World Series by being thrown out while attempting to steal a base.
A few journalists have already gone so far as to proclaim that Beltre put on the best single-game performance in franchise history yesterday, and while I do believe Cliff Lee's epic 13-strikeout, one-walk, two-hit showing at Yankee Stadium last October still leads the pack in that regard, what we saw yesterday unquestionably gives Lee's effort a damn good run for its money. Baseball may very much be a team game at its core, but it's still a beautiful thing when one player fully demonstrates the capability to take a game over all by himself -- and the Rangers have been fortunate enough (and constructed well enough) to receive two such performances in just their last 13 post-season games.
One week ago today, MLB.com's Peter Gammons revealed that Beltre "begged" for the Angels to sign him this past off-season (owing in some part to the fact that he lives just minutes from Angel Stadium). The Rangers, for their part, overwhelmed Beltre with both their willingness to make him a top-flight offer and their cache of major league talent ... and now, today, we're looking at a situation where Beltre may end up performing well enough (and, by means of that performance, generating enough additional revenue for the club) that the Rangers pass the break-even point on their probable $96 million investment by the end of the fourth year of his deal. If anything like that happens, and/or if Beltre plays a material role in this thing winning a World Series, his contract will easily go down as one of the better high-dollar free-agent contracts in recent memory.
There's more yet that needs to be said (and will be said) about the incredible series that we just witnessed, and, in particular, the Game 4 clincher -- but I'm reserving this morning for some very much due appreciation of Napoli and Beltre, who entered the post-season as two of the game's three best hitters during the month of September, and now find their stars shining even brighter than before with one successful playoff round behind, and just two more left between them and the ultimate prize.