Adrian Beltre was the hero for Texas Rangers after his three solo home runs to power gave his team a 4-3 win over Tampa Bay Rays to take them to the next round of the playoffs..
The reigning league champion Rangers, who beat Tampa Bay three games to one in the best-of-five series, will face either Detroit or the New York Yankees in the best-of-seven league championship series that begins on Saturday.
Beltre, 1-for-11 at the plate in the playoffs before Tuesday, became only the sixth player to hit three homers in the same Major League Baseball playoff game, the first since Adam Kennedy of the Anaheim Angels in 2002.
“The first couple games, their pitching was pretty good,” Beltre said. “Today something changed. I felt real good and I was able to help my team win.”
The 32-year-old Dominican third baseman missed his chance to go 4-for-4 in homers by flying out to right field in the eighth inning.
Beltre is still seeking a World Series title after stops with the Angels, Seattle and last year at Boston.
The veteran of 14 major league seasons hopes to power the Rangers back into the World Series after they lost their first trip to the title showdown last year to San Francisco.
“It feels great,” Beltre said. “That’s one of the reasons I came to this team, to put a (championship) ring on my finger. We’re looking good now but we still have a long way to go.”
Trailing 4-2 entering the ninth inning, the Rays rallied when Sean Rodriguez scored his third run of the game, pulling Tampa Bay within the final margin when he crossed the plate after a single to right field by Casey Kotchman.
But the Rays’ championship dreams ended when Rangers reliever Neftali Feliz induced Desmond Jennings to ground into a fielder’s choice for the final out.
Texas leadoff hitter Ian Kinsler hit a solo homer in the first inning and Beltre followed with another to start the second inning for the Rangers, both blasts off Tampa Bay starter Jeremy Hellickson to give Texas a 2-0 lead.
Tampa Bay’s Matt Joyce doubled in Rodriguez, who knocked the ball from Texas catcher Mike Napoli’s grasp in a home-plate collision, with two outs in the second to pull one back for the Rays.
But Beltre blasted another homer off Hellickson in the fourth to put the Rangers on top 3-1.
The Rays moved within 3-2 in the fourth when Rodriguez scored again, this time on Kotchman single.
But Beltre struck again in the seventh, smashing another round-trip blast off Rays reliever Matt Moore to push the Rangers’ lead to 4-2.
That homer lifted Beltre into history alongside Kennedy, George Brett, Reggie Jackson, Bob Robertson and Babe Ruth, who hit three homers in the same World Series game in both 1926 and 1928.