Brandon Belt

Carlos Beltran returns triumphantly, but isn’t pain-free

This isn’t the same Carlos Beltran you remember from Kansas City, flying around center field and stealing bases with ease. He’s one of those “professional hitter” types now, and after collecting a broken bat infield single in his first at-bat, he drilled a line drive homer into the right field arcade in his second, the first run of the game in the Giants’ 2-1 win over the Padres on Wednesday night.

Beltran didn’t know he had hit the first homer at AT&T Park in his career until the ball landed in the arcade.

“When I hit it, it was such a line drive,” Beltran said. “I thought it was going to hit the wall.”

Then Beltran chased after a bloop fly ball hit by Orlando Hudson down the right field line with a man on first in the sixth inning, with the Giants ahead 2-0. Stopping the ball was paramount, and while he ran as fast as he could and dove, the ball was out of his reach and past him down the line. A friendly official scorer (friendly to Beltran, not Tim Lincecum) scored the play a triple, and the lead was cut in half.

Whether or not the Giants are able to surpass the Arizona Diamondbacks in the standings has a lot to do with how Beltran can manage his injury, which still lingers.

“I’m not pain-free,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m going to be pain-free the rest of the season.”

On Beltran’s next plate appearance in the bottom of the sixth, he struck out swinging. It was the same way he injured his right hand a few Sundays ago against Philadelphia, whiffing from the left side. As he flexed his right hand while walking to the dugout, probably wondering why he was so willing to be traded to a team where the temperature rarely breaks 65 degrees after the second inning of night games.

“It’s crazy,” Beltran said of the weather, which tonight was cold, windy and foggy — otherwise known as a balmy late August night in San Francisco.

“But you have to play. Everywhere it’s warm, here it’s kind of cold. When I came to San Francisco as a visiting team, it was uncomfortable to play here. Because everywhere you were before it’s kind  of warm, you get loose. Here, you play the whole game and you don’t get loose.”

Beltran gave credit to Lincecum, who overcame a shaky first inning where he retired the first two batters and then walked the bases loaded. After a broken bat liner by Kyle Blanks was caught by Orlando Cabrera, Lincecum was dominant, only facing 25 hitters over the next seven innings — including retiring the last eight hitters he faced after giving up the game’s only run on that “triple” by Hudson. Lincecum also knocked in the winning run on a seeing-eye blooper over the Padres first baseman Jesus Guzman’s head.

But Lincecum’s great performance when the Giants needed it most was almost a given. With Beltran’s injury putting the rest of his season somewhat in doubt for a while, his return gave tonight’s win a more hopeful feeling than a win normally would, at least for a second place team after the team ahead of them in the standings already took care of business earlier in the evening (the Diamondbacks beat the Nationals 4-2).

“It gives us a lot of confidence,” Cabrera said about Beltran’s return to the lineup. “Hopefully he can put up some big numbers.”

If he doesn’t, the next guy on the list after Pablo Sandoval who the Giants will count on may be Brandon Belt, who tripled to right center and smashed a single off left-handed reliever Josh Spence. At this rate, Belt just may be freed after all.

“I like his at-bats, he has a good eye up there,” said Bruce Bochy. “I do see him getting better and better.”

Lots of ifs here, but if the Giants can have a consistent 3-4-5 of Beltran, Pablo Sandoval and Belt the rest of the way, things wouldn’t look so glum offensively. Of course, that would mean Beltran and Sandoval (who was wearing a pretty serious ice pack on his left shoulder in the clubhouse after the game) would have to stay healthy, and Belt wouldn’t be hitting 7th. Perhaps that will change on Thursday.

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