ST. LOUIS -- Jessica Beltran woke up at 4:10 in the morning Friday, looked at the clock, and was startled.
Her husband wasn't lying down next to her.
Carlos Beltran, the St. Louis Cardinals right fielder, was sitting up in bed.
BOX SCORE: Cardinals 9, Dodgers 0
Beltran, was holding his hands together, pantomiming his batting stroke. He was thinking, and thinking, and thinking even more, he would say later, about Game 6.
"I knew he couldn't sleep, so I started praying to God,'' Jessica said, "praying for this opportunity for him. I knew how much he wanted this.''
Now, 19 hours, and 1 minute later, after the Cardinals' 9-0 rout of the Los Angeles Dodgers to capture the National League pennant, Beltran is addressing his teammates before a single bottle of champagne is opened.
"You guys have been on a mission to get me to the World Series,''' Beltran said in the quiet of the Cardinals' clubhouse. "I appreciate it.
"Now that we're here, I expect a lot out of you guys.
"Let's get this done.''
The clock read 11:11.
The party could start.
The champagne corks popped, the beer was sprayed, and Beltran was right in the middle of the celebration, acting as if he were 16 and not 36.
"Look at him,'' Jessica Beltran said, filming him with her video camera. "Look at how excited he is. He has waited so long for this.
For the first time in Beltran's 16-year career, spanning 2,064 regular-season games and 45 postseason games, he is going to the World Series.
The moment Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis struck out, at 10:37 local time, and the Cardinals converged in the infield with a sellout crowd of 46,899 screaming, Beltran jogged in from right field.
He would have run faster, but his mind was spinning, slowing down his body.
"It was like a dream come true,'' Beltran said. "I'm running in there, thinking about how hard I have fought through my career. The ups and downs. I think about my family. I think about my family. I think about my Dad. I think about my Mom. I think about my people. My country. My town where I grew up. Everybody who has helped me be who I am right now.
"I know they feel proud.''
Beltran, who ran and hugged Jessica and his daughters on the field, holding them tightly while the trophy presentation was going on around them, wasn't even supposed to be here, of course.
This was Albert Pujols' team. He was supposed to be the one winning all of these World Series titles with the Cardinals, adding onto his ring collection from 2006 and 2011.
Yet, when Pujols became a free agent after winning the 2011 World Series, he was gone six weeks later. He departed for the riches of Southern California, signing a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
Cardinals third baseman David Freese remembers the news as if it happened last week.
"I tell you what,'' Freese told USA TODAY Sports, "I was in bed when I heard about the signing of Albert to the Angels. I almost threw up. Seriously, that was my reaction. Holy cow, Albert is gone.''
Two weeks later, the Cardinals replaced Pujols' bat. They signing Beltran to a two-year, $26 million deal.
"When we signed Carlos,'' Freese said, "I almost threw up again. I'm thinking, "Here we go, this is what the Cardinals do. We lost a great manager [Tony La Russa], a great pitching coach [Dave Duncan] a great player [Pujols], and we kept moving. This is how we do it.''
They came within one game of the World Series a year ago.
This time, they took it a game better, and hope to add four more of those victories.
"I wanted to get to the World Series,'' Freese said, "just for him. He's obviously a Hall of Fame talent, and he's a better friend and a better teammate. He's a heck of a leader.
"He deserves this more than anybody.''
And just like that, two years later, all of those haunting memories of NLCS games gone bad, have evaporated from Beltran's memory bank.
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.
"We all wanted this for him,'' Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt said. "It was important to this organization. We've been talking about it all year.''
The Cardinals were the ones who twice ruined Beltran's dream, beating Beltran's 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.
Now, after 15 years, he finally is in the World Series, with a chance for the ultimate prize, with Game 1 scheduled Wednesday against the Boston Red Sox or Detroit Tigers.
"It means so much, it's such a great feeling,'' Beltran says. "I feel so fortunate. When I think of baseball, I think of all the players that have played, 15, 16, 17 years, and never experienced this.
"Now, ever since the playoffs started, everybody was talking about it, saying, "We need to get Carlos to the World Series.''
Beltran even gathered the team before the game, and with everyone sitting down and prepared for a Knute Rockne speech, Beltran offered four words.
"Let's go do this.''
Said Freese: "He understands how simple you have to make this game.''
Beltran then went out and did everything in his power Friday night to assure this October would be different than any other.
He doubled in the first inning, drove in the game's first run in the third inning, drove in another run in the fifth, and sandwiched it with a running, diving, catch that turned into a summersault in the fifth inning.
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. "For all of us in St. Louis, we think back to the days when he was in Houston, and he may been the best player on the plant.
"He's been close. In New York [too].
"Everybody wanted to see this.''
This is a Cardinals' team that has only six players remaining from the 2011 team, and perhaps the last two weeks of Beltran's tenure in St. Louis. He's a free agent. The Cardinals plan to make him a tender offer of $14 million, but he'll get more, maybe much more, from someone like the Yankees.
"We would like to have him back,'' Mozeliak says, but the look on his face tells you that someone will make a higher bid. Someone will overpay. And he'll be gone, but the Cardinals still will be back, just like they are every year.
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.
"It's very easy to look at this organization,'' Freese said, "and be jealous at times, because it's a special feeling putting this uniform on. You don't make the playoffs every year, but you have an opportunity year in and year out.
"There are some teams out there that you can't see as a possible World Series champion. The Cardinals are different.''
They're the ones who used their compensatory draft pick from losing Pujols to grab pitcher Michael Wacha, the 19th selection in the 2012 draft, and the eighth pitcher chosen.
Yes, the same Wacha who was the MVP of the NLCS, beating Cy Young favorite Clayton Kershaw twice in this series, pitching 13 2/3 scoreless innings.
And it's the same organization that drafted infielder Matt Carpenter in the 13th round of the 2009 draft, the same Carpenter who had an epic 11-pitch at-bat against Kershaw in the third inning, leading to the Cardinals' four-run outburst, triggering the rout.
And it's the organization that shrugged off the loss of Pujols, targeted Beltran, and made the shrewdest $26 million investment in baseball.
"Carlos Beltran is a Cardinal-style player,'' Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "He's passionate about the game. Passionate about competing. Passionate about doing it the right way.
"Unfortunately, the game is statistically-driven, and salaries are statistically driven. It breeds selfishness.
"But every once in awhile, you've got a guy come through like Carlos.''
And every one in a while, dreams come true.
"But this is better than a dream,'' Beltran says. "A dream is a dream.
"This is reality.
"This is beautiful.''
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