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Wainwright's Curve Doesn't Necessarily Keep Beltran Up At Night

It is one of the most famous pitches in Cardinals lore--maybe in Mets lore, too.

In Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, Carlos Beltran dug in against then-rookie closer Adam Wainwright in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Cardinals led 3-1 on the strength of Yadier Molina's go-ahead home run. The Mets loaded the bases on a couple of singles and a walk. Beltran, the Cardinals bogeyman of the 2004 NLCS, came to bat. Wainwright got ahead on two pitches and then froze Beltran with one of the nastiest curve balls ever thrown. Beltran froze. The ball went from twelve to six right over the plate. The umpire called strike three. The Cardinals won the pennant.

The Cardinals signing Beltran provided a great reason to dig up footage of that wonderful pitch. Not to say that there ever needs to be a reason to watch that beautiful pitch. I mean, just look at it. That might be the most beautiful pitch ever thrown in a baseball game. Even though this pitch should be celebrated regularly on its own merits, Beltran's signing with the Cards understandably caused fans to recall the last magical postseason run for the Redbirds even as we were still glowing from the club's most recent installment in the annals of St. Louis October lore. Along with the giffs of the last strike of the final out of the NLCS came jokes about Beltran no longer having to face Wainwright.

The problem with these jokes is that the NLCS Game 7 ending strikeout is the only out Beltran has ever made against Wainwright.

In response to Beltran reporting to camp, someone tweeted another joke about Beltran fearing Wainwright's curve ball. This got me to thinking and, honestly, the only time I remember the two players facing one another was that fateful 2006 NLCS at-bat. I suspect that a lot of Cardinals fans are in the same boat as me in this regard--hence the jokes. So I decided to go to the invaluable and look up the Wainwright-versus-Beltran splits. Surprisingly, Beltran owns Wainwright.

Okay, so "owns" is a bit strong as the pitcher and batter have faced each other in only five plate appearances. It is the smallest of sample sizes and vitually meaningless, even if it could very well have meant enough to Tony La Russa during his managing days to be determinative in the filling out of his lineup card. Nevertheless, that knee-buckling Game 7 strikeout was the only time Wainwright retired Beltran. Here is Beltran's line against Wainwright: 5 PA, 2 H (1 2B), 2 BB, 1 RBI, 1 SO, .667 BA, .800 OBP, 1.000 SLG, 1.800 OPS.

It's an interesting look at the human mind, how one plate appearance on the grandest of National League stages can push aside all other faceoffs between a pitcher and hitter. Even if "all" of those other encounters only total four, it's clear that Wainwright the pitcher doesn't seem to give Beltran nightmares even if memories of that Game 7 NLCS at-bat might.

One more thing, lest you go worrying about Beltran's clutchyness. Remember his 2004 NLCS as an Astro, when he thumped the Cardinals with the following line in seven games: 32 PA, 12 R, 10 H, 4 HR, 5 RBI, .417 BA, .563 OBP, .958 SLG, 1.521 OPS. (It was as if he was possessed by the spirit of Jeffrey Leonard.) With his .366 BA, .485 OBP, .817 SLG, and 1.302 OPS, Beltran has also been excellent in all his 22 postseason games played. Fresh off a .910 OPS in 2011 that ranked in MLB's top 15, Beltran ought to be "a good fit" for the Cards indeed.