Trash is treasure between Beltre and Felix
Former teammates always entertain when Rangers, Mariners meet
ARLINGTON -- Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre has been thrown out of a game three times in his career. One of those came while going up against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez during one of their trash-talking confrontations.
"He was talking smack," Beltre said. "He said he was going to strike me out three times. Well, he struck me out on a pitch that was in the dirt. Everybody could see it bounce, but the umpire called it a strike. It was a rookie umpire.
"So I yelled at Felix, 'Next time, bring that up and I'll hit it out.' I never turned and faced the umpire. But he thought I was yelling at him, so he threw me out of the game."
The umpire probably didn't realize at the time that he was witnessing one of baseball's longest-running and most-amusing "feuds" in the big leagues, one that has all the subtlety of a sandlot game in Diamond Hill, White Settlement or Flower Mound.
Beltre and Hernandez are close friends, and they have great respect for each other. But they are also over the top when it comes to talking "smack" to each other. They'll do it by phone, by text message or by yelling at each other during batting practice when both teams are out on the field.
But unlike most opponents, they keep up the steady flow of smack during the course of a game. Last year in Seattle, Hernandez yelled that he would "dance on the mound" when he struck out Beltre with his changeup. Beltre responded by screaming from the Rangers dugout he would just "spit" on the pitch. The two former Mariners teammates love it.
"It starts months before we play, weeks before we play, the day before the game," Beltre said. "We're always talking smack, sending each other text messages and stuff."
The rivalry will be renewed again this week when the Rangers host the Mariners for a three-game series at Rangers Ballpark. Hernandez is scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, so he and Beltre have two days to get the smack pot boiling.
"He's a guy I really respect," Beltre said. "We played together and he's a really good friend. We have a competition of what we're going to do to each other. He wants to strike me out and I want to take him deep. I know how competitive he is and he knows how I am. Whatever the result is, we get together after that game and talk about it.
"It makes the game a little more fun."
It's hard to say who has had the upper hand to this point. Beltre is 7-for-22 (.318) with one home run off of Hernandez. But he has also struck out six times. The only home run came on Sept. 18, 2011, in the Rangers' 3-0 victory.
"Yeah, one home run," Hernandez said. "It was an 0-2 count, I was trying to go in and he crushed that ball. He was yelling at me the whole way around the base, the whole time. I could not look at him, because I was going to start laughing. But when I get him out, I get him back, for sure. If he hits a fly ball, I just yell pretty loud. And he'll say, 'C'mon man.' It's awesome."
Their friendship goes back to 2005. Beltre had just signed a five-year contract to play for the Mariners and Hernandez was an 18-year-old highly-regarded rookie. Beltre was coming off his best season with the Dodgers, having led the National League in home runs and was the kind of person that young players gravitate toward easily.
"I first met him at my first Spring Training in 2005," Hernandez said. "He was a great guy, a great teammate. A tough guy. He's as tough a guy as I've ever seen playing. He could be hurt with anything and he'd still be in the lineup, playing unbelievable defense. He's just a great guy.
"It was Jose Lopez, Yuni [Betancourt] and I, we just always hung out with Belly. And Belly was always talking to us about what we should do and what we weren't supposed to do. He was a guy who helped a lot."
Said Beltre, "He reminded me of myself. He is a hard worker and wants to be the best. I did everything I could to help him, but he really works hard to be the best."
The "feud" really got started when Beltre left the Mariners to play for the Red Sox, but that was for just one season in limited engagements. Beltre then signed a six-year deal with the Rangers in 2011, putting him in the same division as Hernandez. Now he has the potential of facing Hernandez 4-6 times a year, depending on the state of the Mariners rotation.
"We always have fun," Hernandez said. "It's always a battle. I'm just always trying to strike him out and he's always trying to hit a homer against me. If he hits a homer, he's probably going to be running around backward. If I strike him out, I'll do something else. That's what we talk about every time. It's awesome. It's awesome to face him."
There's not many pitchers who would willingly say that about Beltre, any more than there are hitters who say it's "awesome" to face Hernandez. But the competitive nature of these two not only stokes their own rivalry, but it is a main reason why both players carry immense respect around the league.
"Beltre is a pro's pro," said Indians manager Terry Francona, who managed Beltre during his one season in Boston. "The only way to really aggravate him is to tell him he's not playing. That really aggravates him, and that's a compliment. Guys look up to him, they respect him. It's hard not to. He's a great kid and he plays the game right. It's not so much fun when you're playing against him. But when you have him on your club, he's what you're looking for."
If Hernandez loses to the Rangers on Wednesday, it will be his 19th loss against them, the most ever by an opponent. But that doesn't lessen the respect the Rangers have for Hernandez, especially manager Ron Washington. He often refers to Hernandez by his nickname of "King Felix."
"I love his competitive spirit," Washington said. "I love the way he competes. It's unfortunate that he pitches for a team that's had a hard time putting runs on the board, but this guy still competes. You never hear one excuse coming out of the Northwest or complaint about run support.
"He's more of an old-school pitcher. If the team gets him two runs, he's going to make it stand. If the team gets him one run, he's going to make it stand. The King may not always have his best stuff, but he always figures out a way to stay in the ballgame."
Hernandez loves being in a ballgame, especially when Beltre is in the opposing lineup. The feud resumes on Wednesday.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.