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Beltran is now available to test free-agent market

DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published October 22, 2004

ST. LOUIS - After one of the most productive performances in playoff history, Astros centerfielder Carlos Beltran is readying for the riches that will surely arrive in free agency.

"I was happy to play in Houston. The fans there treated me great," Beltran said after Thursday night's 5-2 loss to the Cardinals in Game 7. "I'm going to go back to Puerto Rico and make the biggest decision of my life."

Beltran hit .435 in the postseason and tied Barry Bonds' 2002 record with eight postseason home runs. He hit a home run in a record five consecutive games and scored a record 21 runs. He and St. Louis' Albert Pujols tied with a league championship record four home runs.

It has been speculated Beltran, 27, might be in line for a five-year contract worth $75-million. The Yankees are supposedly interested.

Asked if money was the most important thing, Beltran said, "Everything is important. You want to get paid well, but it's not only about money. It's about being happy."

Asked if his playoff enjoyment could help Houston offset financial considerations, he said, "I feel great playing in Houston. I played with so many great players. I'm going to go home and make my decision."

THE OTHER SERIES: Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said the Red Sox "can't get enough credit" for the way they came back against the Yankees. But La Russa also said the length of the games and the emotional and physical tolls were so great the series probably felt "like lingering death."

Even so, La Russa said Boston will not be at a disadvantage in the World Series.

"Adrenaline," he said, "is an amazing thing."

UP AND IN: Don't think LaRussa didn't notice during the ninth inning of Game 6 when Astros reliever Brad Lidge pitched over the head of Jim Edmonds. Especially after Cardinals reliever Julian Tavarez was fined $10,000 for throwing over Jeff Bagwell's head in Game 4.

"The only thing I was upset about is MLB made this ridiculous ruling with Tavarez," LaRussa said. "All you had to do is watch the game. He hadn't hit the target yet. It's ridiculous.

"All of a sudden, here's Lidge. Every pitch he threw it right where he wanted it. He was just trying to get the ball up and in. I didn't have any problem with it. I just think it's totally unfair to penalize our guy when his control was so ragged."

EVEN STEVEN: The NLCS was even in more than wins and losses entering Game 7. Both teams were batting .246, scored 29 runs and had 4.80 ERAs. The Cardinals had 51 hits and nine doubles; the Astros 50 and 10. Houston had 29 RBIs; the Cardinals 28.

"That may be the first time that's ever happened going into the seventh game that you're exactly the same on those categories," La Russa said. "But if you watch the games, they've been played evenly."

ODDS AND ENDS: Tavarez appealed his fine. ... St. Louis second baseman Tony Womack (back spasms) started but was dropped from first to seventh in the order.

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