Beltran loves idea of chasing pennant

Updated: June 26, 2004, 1:00 AM ET
Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Carlos Beltran had played only two games during his rookie season when then-Boston manager Jimy Williams was asked about the young outfielder his team was facing.

"I said, 'He looks like he's a pretty special player ... I think he has a chance to be rookie of the year,' " Williams recalled Friday. "That was after just two games."

Carlos Beltran
APBeltran would benefit greatly by Texas' no state tax.

Five years later, Williams -- now the manager of the Astros -- is writing the 1999 AL Rookie of the Year's name on Houston's lineup card.

Beltran joined the Astros for a road game against the Texas Rangers on Friday night. It was a day after last-place Kansas City traded him to a Houston team clearly intent on trying to get to its first World Series this season.

Beltran singled, doubled and scored Houston's only run in a 3-1 loss to Texas.

"As a player, you always want to be on a good team," Beltran said. "I think we've got good chances here. I'm going to do whatever I can, defensively and offensively. You always dream about being in a pennant race, being in a playoff. That's just something I want to experience."

The Astros, fourth in the NL Central and six games behind division-leading St. Louis, shuffled their lineup both in the batting order and in the field.

Beltran started in center field and batted third, dropping everybody else down one from their normal spots in the lineup. Lance Berkman was fourth, followed by Jeff Kent as the designated hitter and Jeff Bagwell hitting sixth.

Bagwell can't remember batting that low in the lineup in 14 seasons with the Astros -- or anywhere for that matter. But that's OK with him.

"It's a huge addition for us," Bagwell said. "He's a special talent. Obviously, he can only make us better. This is a special year. Like I've said before, it's not about me, it's about the team."

The 27-year-old Beltran, a switch-hitter who hit .278 with 15 homers, 51 RBI and 14 steals in Kansas City, gives the Astros a much deeper lineup.

"It makes it tougher for the opposition," Williams said. "You can't really pitch around anybody."

Defensively, Craig Biggio moved from center to left -- another position change for the former catcher and second baseman. Berkman shifted from left to right, where he has played before.

The Astros sent closer Octavio Dotel to Oakland to complete the three-way deal. Kansas City got three prospects, two from Oakland and one from Houston.

Houston spent millions last offseason to bring pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte to Houston. Clemens, the majors' first 10-game winner, agreed to only a one-year deal. Pettitte is expected to end a monthlong stint on the DL when he's scheduled to pitch Tuesday.

The trade for Beltran, which Berkman called the "best offensive acquisition" the team could've made, shows the Astros are serious about winning this year.

"It reiterated what we already knew. This is it, we're going for it. The expectation is to win," Berkman said. "It's no different than at the beginning of the year. It's just re-emphasized that."

Beltran, who can become a free agent at the end of the year, said he doesn't feel any added pressure.

"It isn't easy for me, the first time I get traded," Beltran said. "At the same time, I know this got done because the Astros thought I was going to be a good addition. So, I'm happy to be here and looking forward to start winning games."

Beltran's departure a day earlier brought tears to Royals manager Tony Pena. As he left the clubhouse for Houston, Beltran placed a note in Pena's office where he knew he would find it.

"He just said, 'Thanks for everything,' " Pena said. ' "For your help, and for the friendship. With all my heart, you are the best manager I ever played for. God bless you and your family.' "

It was, Pena said, "Tough. Very tough."

"Everybody wanted Carlos to stay here. I want Carlos to stay here," Pena said. "The front office wanted Carlos to stay here, but sometimes it is out of our hands and it is tough to deal with."

Beltran and his wife were having dinner at Mike Sweeney's house when general manager Allard Baird called him Thursday night with the news.

"He gave us all hugs," said Sweeney, the Royals' captain and first baseman. "Carlos is a great man."

Royals general manager Allard Baird is generally getting high marks for the trade, especially considering that everyone in baseball knew he planned to unload Beltran. The Royals last offered the smooth switch-hitter a contract "two Decembers ago," Baird said.

"We offered him a three-year deal and then had conversations with his agent, Scott Boras. From what they desired, it was not even close," Baird said.

"When things get to the extreme and you cannot make a deal, we can go ahead and make a nice offer that satisfies, I guess, newspapers and fans and that kind of stuff. But we're lying to people.

"Bottom line, this was way out of our reach. Way out of our reach. Quite frankly, out of a lot of teams' reaches," he said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press