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Beltre offers a signature moment

03.17.10 at 3:59 pm ET
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Beltre delivered a signature play in Wednesday's game against the Mets. (Brita Meng Outzen/MLB.com)To see a slideshow of Adrian Beltre’s defensive gem from Wednesday’s game, click here.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — When the Alex Cora liner up the middle caromed off the bottom of pitcher John Lackey’s foot, Adrian Beltre’s eyes suddenly widened. The ball squirmed a few feet towards the third base side of the mound. Lackey took a couple steps towards it, but the Red Sox third baseman called him off.

This, after all, presented an opportunity for Beltre to make a defensive play that fills him with joy.

He sprinted in and barehanded the ball. While falling to his right, feet planted flat and torso parallel to the ground, Beltre whipped the ball with breathtaking power. His throw clipped Cora at first base by a half-step, producing not only an out, but offering Beltre’s first occasion since coming to the Sox to drop jaws with his glove work.

That barehand, flat-footed play on a carom, Beltre said, is a play that he loves “more than you can imagine.”

“That’s probably my favorite play. I love to make those plays, especially when it’s supposed to be a base hit,” he said. “It’s always nice to know that I can still do that. I hadn’t done it this year yet.”

There were different dimensions about the play to appreciate. There was Beltre’s howitzer, of course. Few infielders could imagine delivering a ball with that kind of velocity without having their feet planted.

“You can tell he’s been throwing the baseball all his life,” said manager Terry Francona. “It’s a natural thing. He can throw from a number of different angles.”

Beltre’s ability to bare hand the ball and find a grip on it also stood out.

“That’s almost like a routine play for him,” remarked Sox utility player Bill Hall, who saw Beltre make similar plays on a couple of occasions when the two were teammates in Seattle at the end of last year. “He’s bare handing that ball. That one probably has sidespin, so it makes it a little tougher to get a grip on that ball. And he’s probably throwing it without a good four-seam grip — and sidearm, and falling down. It just takes a lot of athletic ability and a lot of body control to do it.”

Beltre’s play commanded an ovation at City of Palms Park. But while it is clear that he has the capability to garner more such reactions with his work in the field, the third baseman made clear that his motivation to work tirelessly in the field during batting practice comes from another source.

“I enjoy making them myself, because I’m doing something for my teammates,” said Beltre. “It makes me want to get better everyday. I want to be able to help my teammates, especially the pitchers out there, trying to do their job, which is getting groundballs, so we can do our job.”

One other Beltre-related item from Wednesday’s game: the Red Sox narrowly avoided a potentially devastating blow.

In the top of the sixth with Hideki Okajima on the mound, a Mets batter flicked a ball into the air, about halfway down the third-base line. Beltre and catcher Victor Martinez converged. Martinez tried to make a sliding catch, and Beltre nearly collided with him before peeling off at the last moment. The ball bounced in foul territory, and the two players remained unharmed.

“We’re actually yelling for [Okajima], because that’s probably the one play where he has to take it, but he might have got sandwiched there,” said Francona. “That’s kind of in no-man’s land.”

That being the case, Beltre recognized that the Sox had dodged the proverbial bullet.

“I didn’t expect Victor to be there. Normally the catcher doesn’t go there for that ball. That was supposed to be my ball. I was surprised that he got there so quick,” said Beltre. “I told him it was lucky that collision didn’t happen. That would have been a disaster in spring training.”

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