10/11/2004 3:42 AM ET
Beltre wraps up breakout season
Free-agent third baseman carried Dodgers offensively
By Jared Ravich / MLB.com
|Adrian Beltre hits a sacrifice fly in the third inning of Game 4 on Sunday. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES -- No one really knew what kind of year the Dodgers were going to get out of Adrian Beltre, but the people around him all knew that he had the potential to turn in a season to remember.
The Dodgers' season ended a little sooner than they would have liked, but there is no doubt that this was a season Beltre will never forget.
"When Adrian Beltre realizes how good he is, it could very well be the storyline for the Major League Baseball season, period," said manager Jim Tracy, sitting in his office during Spring Training. "His numbers would end up being gaudy."
How did those numbers end up?
"Oh, they were pretty gaudy," said first-year hitting coach Tim Wallach on Sunday, after the Cardinals beat the Dodgers, 6-2, to capture the National League Division Series, 3-1.
The 25-year-old third baseman finished his seventh season in the Major Leagues as a top candidate for the National League MVP Award after one of the finest offensive performances the Dodgers have ever seen. His 48 home runs not only led the Majors, but also tied Mike Schmidt's record for most by a big league third baseman and stand as a new Dodgers record for home runs by a right-handed hitter. His 200 hits make him just the eighth hitter in Dodgers history to reach the plateau and ranked fourth in the National Leauge.
He also finished fourth in the league with a .334 batting average, fourth with 121 RBIs, second with 376 total bases (a Los Angeles record) and fourth with a .629 slugging percentage.
"I think he did a tremendous job," said Wallach. "He was very selective, and he knew what he wanted to do when he went up there against each guy that he [faced]. He studied them well and he actually studied himself well, and I think that's what helped him have such a great year."
Hard to believe the burning question at the beginning of the season was "Would this be the year Beltre finally puts it together?"
His teammates at the time all said, "Yes." His coaches asked, "Why not?" Beltre himself only said that he knew he needed to be more consistent.
"Looking back at when I was asked that question in Spring Training, I'd be lying if I said that I knew I would be having the season I had," said Beltre. "I was positive I was going to have a pretty good season, but I never thought it would be this good. I'm really proud of it. To get to the playoffs, we haven't been there in over eight years, and that's probably going to be the first step to many, many championships here.
"It was not one answer, just everything put together. Experience, approach, laying off pitches, everything came together and it all just clicked at the right time. My family had a lot to do with it."
After fouling a pitch off his foot during a series in May against the Marlins in Florida, Beltre was bothered by bone spurs -- possibly loose bone chips. But he battled through the injury and hobbled around the bases to carry the club all season and lead the Dodgers to the playoffs, his first.
In the NLDS, though, Beltre didn't put up the same kind of numbers he had during the season, singling four times in 15 at-bats and driving in one run. The Dodgers got their first postseason win since 1988, but it wasn't enough to prolong the season for another series.
"It doesn't feel good at all," said Beltre. "We gave it a helluva try. Our first step was to get to the playoffs. We knew it was going to be tough facing the best lineup in the National League.
"We wanted to keep playing [Monday] and hopefully win the series and get to the next step. But that didn't happen, and we have to think about trying to do it next year."
Now that the season is over, the burning question for the Dodgers still concerns Beltre, but this time it's revolves around whether or not the free agent will return to Los Angeles.
"I don't really know what's going to happen yet," said Beltre. "I wish I could know, but I'm going to wait and see. Hopefully it happens. These L.A. fans are great. They've been great all year, and they've supported me all year. I wanted to make them happy."
The Dodgers have enough financial flexibility to make a serious run at re-signing Beltre, but Paul DePodesta, entering his first full offseason as general manager for the Dodgers, is also prepared to do whatever it takes to improve the club. That may mean going in another direction if Beltre's price gets too high or the length of his contract would be too long.
"Obviously there are a lot of parties involved in these types of talks," said DePodesta. "But like I've said all along, [signing Beltre] is a top priority for us, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that he stays in a Dodgers uniform.
"We have, I think, a great foundation to build around. Hopefully we'll be able to keep together as many of these pieces as we possibly can and also fill the holes that every club has. But I think we're in better shape than most going into winter."
Jared Ravich is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.