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Adrian Beltre joins 3,000 hit club

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Texas Rangers’ Adrian Beltre tips his helmet as he acknowledges cheers after hitting a double for his 3,000th career hit that came off a pitch from Baltimore Orioles’ Wade Miley in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, July 30, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. Texas Rangers’ Adrian Beltre tips his helmet as he acknowledges cheers after hitting a double for his 3,000th career hit that came off a pitch from Baltimore Orioles’ Wade Miley in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, July 30, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre became the 31st player in Major League Baseball history to reach 3,000 hits for his career. The milestone hit – a double – came on July 30 against Baltimore Orioles starter Wade Miley in the fourth inning.

It’s been a year of milestones for Beltre; despite an injury that kept him out of action for the first two months of the season, he has crossed both the 450 homer and 1,600 RBI marks since his year began on May 29. Those are impressive numbers.

But 3,000 hits, well – that’s something else.

It’s been a long road to this point for Beltre – longer than most, really, when you consider the path his career has taken.

Signed at 15 out of the Dominican Republic by the Dodgers, Beltre made his debut in the big leagues in 1998 at just 19. He’s played nearly 2,800 games in the majors despite being just 38. After a promising start in L.A. – plus a monstrous walk year in 2004 – Beltre signed with the Mariners for what would ultimately prove to be a disappointing tenure.

All told, Beltre was a serviceable, largely unspectacular – again, excepting 2004 – through his age 30 season. But starting in 2010 with Boston and continuing through the next six-plus seasons in Texas, he put together what has to be one of the greatest career second-halves of all-time.

In just that stretch – the last third-and-a-bit of his career – Beltre struck 1,300 of those hits (precisely – his 3,000th will actually be that 1,300th hit). He went from over a decade of being a pretty good player to suddenly becoming one of the best in the game during the time which conventional wisdom expects to be his decline.

And he doesn’t look to be slowing down.

Beltre’s ultimate decline is inevitable, but his skills are eroding at a remarkably slow rate. Assuming health, he could have two, three or even four solid seasons after this one. And that could lead to a significant climb up some all-time lists; he could wind up challenging for the top five in hits.

It would be tough to argue Beltre’s Hall of Fame bona fides – he has five Gold Gloves to go with his offensive stat line, as well as an elder statesman/folk hero status within the game. He’s a darling of the sabermetric community; advanced metrics love his game. He hates having his head touched and just last week got tossed from a game for physically moving the on-deck circle.

If all that doesn’t add up to Cooperstown, I don’t know what does. The 3,000 hits are just icing on the cake.

This marks the third season in a row in which the club has added a new member, with Ichiro Suzuki reaching the mark last year and Alex Rodriguez crossing the threshold the season before. As long as he stays healthy, Albert Pujols should join them as number 32 sometime in 2018 – he’s already a touch over 2,900. After that, it thins out; next-in-line Carlos Beltran isn’t going to make it and Miguel Cabrera is still three years away - if he stays healthy. From there, it might be a bit – next on the active hits list is Robinson Cano, who’s still almost 700 hits short.

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