- Associated Press - Friday, October 19, 2012

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Carlos Beltran returned to the St. Louis Cardinals‘ starting lineup Friday night for Game 5 of the NL championship series.

Beltran said his strained left knee felt good enough to play. The All-Star right fielder underwent 2 1/2 hours of treatment during the day, plus acupuncture to increase blood flow to the knee.

Beltran was set to bat second against San Francisco. The Cardinals hold a 3-1 lead in the series.

“I’m good to go,” Beltran said. “I feel better. I just needed to go out there and make some sprints 100 percent.”

Manager Mike Matheny withheld his lineup card until less than two hours before gametime, waiting until Beltran was cleared by the team’s medical staff.

The 35-year-old Beltran is hitting .400 with three home runs, five doubles and six RBIs in 30 at-bats this postseason.

Beltran was injured running out a double-play ball in the first inning of Game 3. Matt Carpenter replaced him and hit a go-ahead, two-run homer. Beltran did not play in Game 4, and Carpenter doubled, walked twice and scored two runs in the Cardinals‘ 8-3 victory Thursday night.

Beltran’s biggest concern had been playing the outfield.

“Yesterday I would have loved to be in the lineup, but I just didn’t make it,” Beltran said.

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