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Beltran boosts Cardinals' spirits

Monday, January 16, 2012 | 8:18 p.m. CST; updated 9:26 p.m. CST, Monday, January 16, 2012

ST. LOUIS — No St. Louis Cardinals player can be happier to have Carlos Beltran on his side than pitcher Kyle Lohse.

The Cardinals' new right fielder is a .564 career hitter against the right-hander with four home runs, six doubles and 12 RBIs. Add in 11 walks and the switch-hitting Beltran has a stunning .647 on-base percentage.

Lohse, a 14-game winner last year, joked at the team's Winter Warmup that Beltran was the greatest player in history.

"Have you seen his numbers on me?" Lohse said. "What he brings to the team is going to help us immensely, and it's going to lower my ERA at least half a point. So it's good."

The 34-year-old Beltran got a two-year, $26 million free agent deal after a strong comeback season with the Mets and Giants, rebounding from two injury-plagued years. The Beltran pickup helps the World Series champions move on from the loss of Albert Pujols.

"You can't fill Albert's shoes, but Carlos Beltran is an elite talent," World Series MVP David Freese said. "And when he's healthy he's scary for sure."

Virtually the entire title team, minus Pujols, will be honored Tuesday at the White House. This after the Cardinals' three-day fan festival with lines so long for paid autographs, with funds going to the team's Cardinals Care charity, that retired manager Tony La Russa was still signing more than an hour past his allotted two-hour slot.

All-Star Lance Berkman was the most expensive autograph at $100, followed by Freese, Beltran, Matt Holliday and catcher Yadier Molina, a Warmup no-show, at $75. Among the bargain signatures was Lohse at just $5.

"Cardinals fans, that's why they're so good," reliever Mitchell Boggs said. "They're here no matter what. They appreciate the World Championship but at the same time they appreciate the Cardinals."

Players are just about done savoring their unlikely run to the title, coming from 10 ½ games back in the NL wild card in late August, then upsetting the Phillies, Brewers and Rangers. Not yet.

"I probably didn't give it enough credit for being as great as it is," Berkman said. "I'm still kind of pinching myself and turning to my wife every once in a while and saying, 'Can you believe we won this thing?'"

Beltran will play right field while Lance Berkman moves back to first base after being named NL comeback player of the year. Berkman helped in the recruiting effort, leaving a voice mail message, and is confident Beltran has plenty left.

"I don't believe he's ready for the rocking chair," Berkman said. "He runs pretty out there, he's got a great way about him, a grace."

Center field Jon Jay said he's "super excited" to be playing next to Beltran, who moved to right field a few years ago to ease the load on his legs.

Beltran said right field is much easier on his surgically-repaired right knee, but is willing to play center if needed. His only goal for next season is to stay on the field.

The Cardinals had been on Beltran's list of potential suitors even before Pujols' departure because of their rich playoff history, going to the postseason nine times in 16 years under La Russa. Beltran picked St. Louis over the Indians, Rays, Giants and an unnamed team that made a three-year offer for lower annual salary.

"Honestly, last year was a real important year for me because after coming from the injuries it gave me a sense of where I am and how much baseball I have left."

New manager Mike Matheny has suggested Beltran could be a good No. 2 hitter, but Beltran said he'd be happy at "two, three, four, five, whatever." Beltran played 142 games last season, and said the only time he missed was because of his knee.

"If I'm healthy, I don't worry about numbers because I know that at the end of the year the numbers are going to be there," he said.

 


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