Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY Sports
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Cardinals tried to keep it on the down low but Friday night, they finally unveiled the inspiration behind their National League pennant.
Yeah, the guy they mobbed on the field, hugging so tight, they don't want him to ever let go.
The Cardinals are going to the World Series, and for the first time in his life, Carlos Beltran is going along for the ride, too.
The Cardinals embarrassed the Los Angeles Dodgers, 9-0, behind the latest dazzling performance by rookie starter Michael Wacha, but this game belonged to Beltran.
Beltran, who lost all seven postseason games he ever played with his team one game away from a World Series appearances, finally has a chance for that ring.
And he did everything in his power to assure this October would be different like any other.
The man doubled in the first inning, drove in the game's first run in the third inning, another run in the fifth, and sandwiched it with a running, diving, catch that turned into a summersault in the fifth inning.
"Thank God for this opportunity," he said in a TV interview afterward. "I'm so happy right now. We did it as a team. We fought hard, we worked hard, thank God we're here."
Yes, this was Beltran's night.
And the Cardinals made sure it was a night he'd never forget.
"That's always been a theme of what these guys would like to see happen,'' Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said this week. For all of us in St. Louis, we think back to the days when he was in Houston, and he may be the best player on the planet.
"He's been close. In New York [too].
"I think everyone one of us would love to see him get that opportunity.
"It would be a special moment for everybody.''
Mission accomplished; Cardinals' style.
Beltran, a free agent who likely will depart after the season for greater riches, now hopes to have a parting gift for his efforts.
Perhaps a ring for that finger.
"We all think about it, we all talk about it,'' Cardinals third baseman David Freese said Wednesday. "Obviously, you want to win it just as much as the next guy, but to get it for the guys who have grinded it out for so many years, and are so close to being in the Hall of Fame, he deserves to get to the World Series.
And, just like that, all of those haunting memories of NLCS games gone bad, have disappeared from the memory bank.
The Cardinals got him twice themselves, overcoming a 3-2 deficit, and beating the Houston Astros in the 2004 NLCS.
In 2006, the Cardinals got him again, winning Game 7 as Beltran watched a called third strike from Adam Wainwright that ended the game.
Last season, with Beltran now joining the enemy, the Cardinals had a 3-1 lead over the San Francisco Giants. They lost three in a row.
And again, Beltran went home.
"You see somebody who has had the caliber of career that Carlos has had,'' Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said, "and you don't get these opportunities very often. And to be able to maximize it, and do something that his kind of career deserves, is special to him.''
Certainly, the Cardinals are making their World Series trips virtually an annual affair.
This will be their fourth World Series appearance in the last 10 years, and it will be a replay of either the 2004 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, or the 2006 World Series against the Detroit Tigers.
They say it really doesn't matter who they play, knowing they have five days to recover from their celebratory party before playing the World Series on Oct. 23 in the American League city.
Certainly, they'll have a well-rested rotation lined up with ace Chris Carpenter going Game 1, and perhaps will even have a surprise guest for their offense.
First baseman Allen Craig, who has been out six weeks with a fractured left foot, is expected to be activated for the World Series, and can certainly be used as a DH in the AL cities.''
The Dodgers, who packed their suitcases for a week, now are returning home for the winter.
There will be no celebrations.
No trips to Disneyland.
It may be conservative, old-school, and boring, but they'll have no choice but to watch how the Cardinals go about this celebratory business.
"I think in order to play well,'' Wacha said, "you just can't get caught up in the moment. You've just got to stay composed out there."
Certainly, he did just that, yielding just one run and eight hits in 21 innings this postseason, striking out 22.
Oh, and that other 22-year-old dude who happens to play right field for the Dodgers?
Yasiel Puig committed two errors, struck out twice, and went hitless in three at-bats.
It was that kind of night for the Dodgers, and ace Clayton Kershaw, who was hammered for 10 hits and seven runs in four innings.
And it continues to be that kind of October for Carlos Beltran.