Rangers could lose heart-and-soul if Beltre injury is serious

Adrian Beltre left Game 1 of the ALDS against the Blue Jays in considerable discomfort after injuring is back on a slide and appearing to further aggravate it on a swing during is next at bat.

TORONTO – After their 5-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 1 of the ALDS, the Texas Rangers were surprisingly muted in the clubhouse.

For the AL West champs, it was at once a win and a loss, the former showing up on the scoreboard, the latter in an absence from the Rangers’ midst.

Nowhere to be seen was Adrian Beltre, their third baseman, their No. 3 hitter, a guy whose 413 career homers and 2,767 hits are just a small addendum to a compelling argument for a place in Cooperstown down the line. His deeper stats at the plate and in the field are pantheon-worthy and he’s universally regarded as a heart-and-soul player.

Maybe he’s not a lock for the Hall, but he’s close.

A World Series title, maybe an MVP award in the post-season would buttress his case. That looks like a longshot this fall after developments early in Game 1 at Rogers Centre.

In the third inning, Beltre lined a single to centre, driving in the Rangers’ second run of the game but he staggered out of the batters’ box, aging before the eyes of all in attendance. On his baseball card, he’s listed at 36 but the average septuagenarian would have out-footed him to the bag. To say that he ran gingerly understates it. Kevin Pillar threw to the plate but he might have had a play on Beltre at first if he had picked up how Beltre had come up lame.

The Rangers’ trainer came out to look at Beltre but he said that he was good to stay in. It didn’t work out that way, though. Before a pitch was thrown in the bottom half of the inning, Beltre pulled himself from the game, leaving the field in tears. The official line coming out of the Rangers’ clubhouse was that Beltre had a back strain and would be a day-to-day call.

Really, though, it looked like an upper-and-lower-body injury, something on the scale of his central nervous system shorting out.

Rangers manager Jeff Bannister said that Beltre had come up with back spasms but otherwise he had “no information” on his availability going forward. It’s hard to envision Beltre returning to the field anytime soon, especially for a lunchtime first pitch in Game 2 Friday.

Hanser Alberto came into the game to take Beltre’s place in the field. In the fourth Alberto couldn’t get to a slow roller off Edwin Encarnacion’s bat and that cashed in the Jays’ first run of the game, making it 2-1 at that point. Otherwise the 22-year-old just blended in with the scenery, which is all that you could hope for with a call-up from triple-A with but 41 career MLB games.

There are losses and then there are losses. When the Rangers came within a game of a World Series in 2011, Beltre hit five homers in 17 post-season games. That was his best chance at glory and he came into this post-season thinking this would be his last.

Even if Beltre makes it back — they can do wonders with over-the-counter or prescriptions — he’ll be limited and fragile. One more flare up and you’d believe it would be his season.

It’s not up to Alberto to fill his void but the others in the heart of the batting order. Yesterday those who would be the obvious choices to lead were there in body but did nothing at all: The hitters from clean-up through to the six-hole, DH Prince Fielder, first baseman Mike Napoli and left fielder Josh Hamilton, went 0-for-11 striking out five times.

It was the bottom third of the order who picked it up with Beltre gone. If Fielder, Napoli and Hamilton don’t get off the mark, then the Game 1 victory might be as good as it gets. Fielder would seem the likeliest candidate — his season (23 homers, 98 RBI, .305 BA, .378 OBP) is solid stuff but it would be tempting and maybe effective to get around him to Napoli and Hamilton, who both looked pretty inelegant when getting mowed down.

The 34-year-old Hamilton has struggled in the post-season over his career but then again he has struggled beyond the field of play.

Every generation has its players who should have been, those possessing a world of potential that is squandered. This era’s is Hamilton, a former first-overall draft pick whose drug and alcohol issues have played out painfully and publicly.

It looked like he had come in out of the night when he won a batting title and the MVP award in Texas with a spectacular season in 2010, but he wandered again and the moment was lost.

He made it into only 50 games this year, just 89 with the Angels the year before.

With 200 career homers it’s fair to say that he’s half the player Beltre is and less than half the player that he was projected to be when drafted.

“It’s amazing the way that [Beltre] can’t hardly move and he finds a way to get a hit up there and keep us going,” Hamilton said, his voice not much louder than a muted whisper.

For a player like Hamilton, sustaining greatness for a season when he was 29, at his physical peak, might prove to be easier than finding it for a couple of games this fall.

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