It's not the Mets, but Carlos Beltran certainly will enjoy this opportunity to face a former employer when the Cardinals square off with the Giants in the NLCS beginning tonight.

Beltran was supposed to be the missing piece that would help the Giants defend their World Series title last year, when he arrived from the Mets in a July trade for prized pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. But the Giants never made it back to the playoffs, and Beltran departed last winter to sign a two-year deal worth $26 million with the Cardinals.

"Last year when I was over there we couldn't do it," Beltran said after the Cardinals' wild 9-7 victory over the Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS. "But at the same time, being able to miss Buster Posey in the lineup and having him now with the guys they have, it's a big plus."

Posey, the All-Star catcher, sustained a broken left ankle during a home plate collision last May, and the Giants weren't the same team afterward.

But Beltran did his part in 44 games with the Giants, batting .323 with seven homers and 18 RBIs. The Giants finished last season 86-56, three games behind the Cardinals for the NL wild card.

"They have a great group of guys, a bunch of characters over there," Beltran said. "Fun guys that I could mess around with in the clubhouse."

Nevertheless, Beltran said he saw an opportunity when the Cardinals called last offseason. The World Series champions had just absorbed the shock of Albert Pujols leaving to sign a $240 million deal with the Angels and viewed Beltran, who turned 35 in April, as a viable alternative.

"When I made my decision last offseason, that was based on the opportunity to be playing in these type of games," said Beltran, who hit .444 with two homers in the NLDS against the Nationals. "When I showed up at spring training, it was fun. The attitude that these guys have when they take the field, they believe in themselves. And at the same time it's a good team."