|Beltre's bat seems to be coming around (SI)|
Now 36 and in his 18th season, Beltre has shown signs of slipping this year. While he's continued to provide his usual stellar defense at the hot corner, he entered last night's game batting just .262/.305/.394--his lowest figures since his injury-plagued 2009. From 2010 to 2014 Beltre was among the best hitters in the game, but this year he's finally started to show his age. His power is down for the fourth straight year, though that might have something to do with the sprained left thumb that cost him three weeks in June. With his body breaking down and skills eroding, Beltre, like most athletes in their 30s, simply isn't the player he once was.
But for one night, at least, he was. The life returned to his bat, enabling him to Beltre wasted no time getting going, keying the Rangers' six-run first with a go-ahead, two-run triple into the left-centerfield gap. He doubled his next time up the very next inning, then followed that up with a single in the third. Facing Mike Fiers in the fifth, he proceeded to rip a laser over the left field wall, completing the cycle before the game was even half over.
Beltre's is the second cycle by a Ranger in less than two weeks, as teammate Shin-Soo Choo turned the trick at Coors Field back on July 21st. Beltre's cycle was special, however, for being the third of his career, which ties a major league record shared by John Reilly, Bob Meusel, and Babe Herman. All of them retired before Jackie Robinson broke the color line, making Beltre the first player with three cycles since baseball was integrated--a fitting accomplishment considering his Dominican heritage.
The Rangers, who are just two games behind the Twins for the second wild card, are hoping there's more where that came from. Beltre had already shown signs of breaking out prior to last night's display, going 3-for-4 with a home run on Friday and notching two more hits on Saturday. With a dozen hits--five for extra bases--in his past half dozen games, Beltre's bat appears to be coming around. A strong second half from him would go a long way towards keeping the Rangers' playoff hopes alive, not to mention prove he still has something left in the tank.
The Rangers and their fans can only hope that last night's game was a sign of things to come rather than a reminder of the beast Beltre used to be.