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By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- Carlos Beltran spent nearly seven years as one of the New York Mets' most feared hitters. He also spent ample time on the disabled list.
So far, he's been healthy enough to make a major impact with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Beltran looks to continue his hot hitting as he makes his return to the Big Apple on Friday night in the opener of this four-game series.
New York (28-23) signed Beltran to a seven-year, $119 million deal in 2005 hoping he could be the centerpiece of a franchise trying to win its first World Series since 1986. The closest they got was the NL championship series a year later, which ended in a Game 7 loss as Beltran stared at strike three from Adam Wainwright (4-5, 4.45 ERA), now his teammate and St. Louis' starter Friday.
Beltran's tenure with the Mets included 149 homers and 559 RBIs, ranking second on the team to David Wright's 163 homers and 653 RBIs in that span. However, it also included right knee surgery prior to 2010, one of two lengthy trips to the disabled list that significantly slowed his production over his last three years in New York.
Beltran hit .289 with 15 homers and 66 RBIs in 98 games in 2011 before being dealt to San Francisco in July for promising right-hander Zack Wheeler.
The right fielder flourished after the trade, hitting .323 in 44 games, prompting the Cardinals to sign him to a two-year, $26 million contract. It's paying off so far, as Beltran ranks among the NL leaders with 15 homers and 42 RBIs while batting .294.
That's one reason his former teammates aren't looking forward to a reunion at Citi Field.
"I'm not too excited (to face Beltran) because he's having a great year," Wright told the team's official website. "He's picking up right where he left off last year. He's healthy and looks great."
Beltran had a pinch-hit RBI single in a 10-7 loss at Atlanta on Wednesday, as manager Mike Matheny opted to rest him as the Cardinals concluded a stretch of 20 games in 20 days at 7-13.
"It's taken its toll on us," Matheny said. "It's not a coincidence with the injuries. Guys are pushing. We've had I don't know how many tight games, but it seems like it's been a lot of them."
Matheny and the Cardinals (27-24) may be in for another tight encounter as Wainwright and Johan Santana square off in a matchup of aces who missed all of last year due to elbow surgery.
Wainwright has won his last two starts while yielding one run and 11 hits with 11 strikeouts in 15 innings, resembling the pitcher who won a total of 39 games in 2009 and '10.
"At this point, I'm just out there pitching," the right-hander told the team's official website. "I feel comfortable on the mound again. I feel like the old me is the new me. I don't think we have to talk about that anymore. I think it's just a matter of going out there and executing pitches."
Santana (2-2, 2.75) certainly executed Saturday, throwing a four-hitter in a 9-0 win over San Diego for his first complete game since elbow surgery in 2010.
"I've been working and I'm still working," Santana said. "You never know. You always have to go out there and perform."
Wright enters this series looking to snap out of 2-for-22 slump over the past six games after going 1 for 5 in Wednesday's 10-6 loss to Philadelphia. He's still among baseball's leaders with a .365 average and is hitting .405 in 21 career regular-season home meetings with St. Louis.
The third baseman is 0 for 7 with three strikeouts versus Wainwright, however.
Though Beltran is just 6 for 26 (.231) against Santana, he's homered twice and walked seven times.
Updated May 31, 2012