If Carlos Beltran can match in a full season the kind of productive pace Will Clark delivered in two months with St. Louis, the Cardinals’ offense will continue to be a force in 2012.
Beltran this year became the first player to hit three or more home runs in his first six games as a Cardinal since Will Clark produced four in six games in 2000, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
In the second game of this season, on April 6, Beltran hit his first home run as a Cardinal, a solo shot off Yovani Gallardo in the third inning of St. Louis’ 11-5 victory over the Brewers at Milwaukee. Boxscore
Two days later, Easter Sunday, April 8, Beltran hit a two-run homer off Marco Estrada in the seventh inning of a 9-3 Cardinals victory at Milwaukee. Boxscore
Beltran’s third home run came in the Cardinals’ sixth game, April 10, at Cincinnati. His solo shot off Mike Leake helped St. Louis to a 3-1 victory over the Reds. Boxscore
All three homers were hit left-handed by the switch-hitting Beltran against right-handers.
As good as Beltran started, Clark was even better.
The first baseman was acquired by the Cardinals from the Orioles on July 31, 2000, in a trade for minor-league infielder Jose Leon. The first-place Cardinals, seeking to secure the National League Central Division crown, saw Clark, 36, as a replacement for slugger Mark McGwire, who was sidelined because of tendinitis in his right knee. In 79 games with Baltimore, Clark was batting .301 with nine home runs and 28 RBI.
“There’s some uncertainty about Mark,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said to the Associated Press in explaining the deal. “We think he’s got a chance to come back, but, in the meantime, Will Clark is a winning-type of veteran. He should help us … (Clark) knows how to come up and get a base hit in a key situation. He’s a very competitive guy.”
Said Clark: “I’m just sort of holding down the fort until the big guy comes back.”
In his Cardinals debut, Aug. 1 at Montreal, Clark entered the game in the sixth inning to play first base, replacing Eduardo Perez. In the seventh, Clark doubled off Expos reliever Anthony Telford in his first Cardinals at-bat. Boxscore
Clark started at first base in each of the Cardinals’ next four games _ and he hit a home run in each. Here’s a look:
_ Aug. 2, 2000, Cardinals 10, Expos 7, at Montreal: Batting cleanup, Clark went 3-for-4 with a walk, two RBI and two runs scored. He hit a second-inning solo homer against right-hander Mike Johnson. Boxscore
_ Aug. 4, 2000, Braves 6, Cardinals 4, at St. Louis: In a preview of the NL Division Series matchup, Clark, batting sixth, hit a solo homer off left-hander Tom Glavine in the second inning on the first pitch he saw in his first home game as a Cardinal. Clark received a standing ovation from the crowd of 48,901 when he stepped to the plate for the first time, and he got a curtain call after hitting the homer. Boxscore
“After that first standing ovation, in my heart I bonded with them already before I even stepped to the plate,” Clark told the Associated Press. “The change of scenery, the emotional lift it gave me, means a lot. The batteries have been recharged.”
_ Aug. 5, 2000, Cardinals 5, Braves 0, at St. Louis: Clark hit a two-run first-inning homer against right-hander John Burkett, a former Giants teammate. Clark also drew two walks and scored twice. Boxscore
_ Aug. 6, 2000, Braves 6, Cardinals 4, at St. Louis: Clark’s solo homer off right-hander Kevin Millwood in the fourth inning was part of a 3-for-4 performance. Clark’s batting average after five games with the Cardinals was .643. Boxscore
“I’ve got a whole new attitude,” Clark said to the Associated Press. “I’m loving life.”
McGwire did return to the Cardinals in September, but started in just six games and was limited to 14 at-bats for the month. Clark played in 51 regular-season games for St. Louis and batted .345 (59-for-171) with 12 home runs, 42 RBI, a .426 on-base percentage and a .655 slugging percentage.
Sparked by Clark’s hitting, the Cardinals won the division title, finishing 10 games ahead of the second-place Reds.
Clark continued to deliver in the postseason. He hit a three-run homer off Glavine in Game 2 of the NL Division Series at St. Louis on Oct. 5. Boxscore In the NL Championship Series against the Mets, Clark led the Cardinals with a .412 batting average (7-for-17).