After Beltran spent nearly nine hours in the hospital with a stomach virus on Wednesday night, first-year manager Mike Matheny thought it best to sit the outfielder in the series finale with the White Sox on Thursday. But the National League leader in home runs (19) returned in full force on Friday, showing once again just how valuable he is to the defending champs' lineup, and why Matheny was so careful.
"It's hard to put him down, but I know that you've got to make an investment to having him later on," Matheny said. "He just seems to get the big hits. He's a smart player. You see if they put a shift on him, he's trying to slap the ball, he's bunting it. You can tell he just loves the game."
And the Cardinals love having him in the lineup, particularly on this homestand, as he is 12-for-23 in six games. With the kind of numbers Beltran has put up this season and in his career, any time would have been a good one for his return, but that he returned in time to play against the Royals was fitting, as Kansas City was the team for which Beltran debuted in 1998 and won American League Rookie of the Year in '99.
"I guess all the players that I played with, some of them have retired or have been able to play on other teams," Beltran said. "But it's good to play against a team that you begin your career with. I have good memories in Kansas City. It was a good beginning for me."
Beltran's big league debut with the Royals came on Sept. 14, 1998, exactly a week after the man he'll face in the batter's box on Saturday, Royals starter Bruce Chen, made his debut. The lefty has been solid this season, and is tied for the AL lead in wins since May 9, with five in that span.
Chen, who will turn 35 on Tuesday, is over a decade older than his Cardinals counterpart, Joe Kelly, who will make just his second Major League start when he takes the ball for St. Louis on Saturday. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed one run over five innings in his big league debut, a no-decision against Cleveland on June 10.
Cardinals: Furcal to return on Saturday
Coming into June, Cardinals shortstop and leadoff man Rafael Furcal was hitting .333 and was a consistent veteran presence at the top of a lineup that has lost the likes of Lance Berkman and Jon Jay to injuries this season.
Coming into Saturday's game, however, Furcal's average has dropped to .292, a descent aided by a 1-for-13 stretch this week. Furcal did manage a single in his last at-bat against the White Sox on Thursday night, but Matheny opted to give Furcal the night off in Friday's series opener against the Royals, although he was used as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning.
Royals: Broxton hits the century mark
Royals closer Jonathan Broxton earned his 100th career save on Friday night, holding off St. Louis in Kansas City's 3-2 win in the series opener. The 28-year-old is in his first season with Kansas City, having spent his first seven seasons as a reliever for the Dodgers, for whom he recorded 84 saves.
With his 16 saves this season, Broxton has the fourth most in the AL.
Yadier Molinda caught his 987th game for the Cardinals on Friday night, third on the team's all-time list behind Del Rice (1,018) and Ted Simmons (1,439).