ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – This is what Adrian Beltre envisioned when he signed with Texas in the offseason – balls jumping off his bat in October, the Rangers making another run for the pennant.
The former Seattle Mariner hit three consecutive home runs and the defending American League champions advanced again, beating the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-3, in Game 4 to win the playoff matchup Tuesday.
Beltre put on a power show that few players in major league history have achieved, helping Texas take the best-of-five series and ending the Rays’ remarkable run to the wild-card spot. The Rangers next play the Detroit Tigers-New York Yankees winner.
“From my point of view, Texas gave me the best chance to put a ring on my finger,” Beltre said, “and I am just two steps away from it. Hopefully that happens.”
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Ian Kinsler led off the game for Texas by homering on the second pitch from rookie Jeremy Hellickson.
Then it was Beltre’s turn. He came into the game in a 1-for-11 slump before breaking loose.
“I think besides my first big league hit, this is right up there,” said the slugger, who spent last season with the Boston Red Sox.
It was the seventh time a player has homered three times in a postseason game. Current Mariner Adam Kennedy was the last to do it, for the Angels in 2002.
Babe Ruth did it twice, while Reggie Jackson, George Brett and Bob Robertson also are on the list.
Beltre connected in his first three at-bats. Given a chance to tie the big league record of four homers in a game, he flew out in the eighth against Wade Davis.
“I was just trying to get a run there. Hit a line drive somewhere, maybe in the gap because they were trying to come back. … Winning the game was more important for me than to hit the (fourth) homer,” Beltre said.
Neftali Feliz gave up a run in the ninth inning before closing for his third save of the series, preserving the victory for Matt Harrison.
Texas won for the fifth consecutive time on the road in the opening round – all at Tropicana Field. The Rangers eliminated Tampa Bay in five games last year, winning three times in the Rays’ home stadium.
Beltre hit solo shots off Hellickson in the second and fourth innings, and added another solo drive against Game 1 winner Matt Moore in the seventh.
The Rays weren’t the only ones who had trouble keeping up with Beltre – a television cameraman trying to run alongside Beltre to capture the image as the star jogged home did a face-first pratfall.
“It’s sour the way it ended. You feel like you have done more. We really, really have nothing to hang our heads about,” Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said.