Craig is a name to remember after Game 1 heroics
ST. LOUIS – It’s not Craig Allen. Maybe in a phone book somewhere it’s Craig, Allen. The name is Allen Craig(notes), and after he drove in the winning run with a clutch pinch hit to give the St. Louis Cardinals Game 1 of the World Series, 3-2, it might be one to remember.
Craig is versatile and a proven hitter, but he doesn’t get much playing time because corner outfielders Matt Holliday(notes) and Lance Berkman(notes) are stars. He can play second and third base, just not as well as teammates.
But all Craig needed was one swing Wednesday night to provide the difference in the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers. He drove a two-strike, 98-mph fastball from reliever Alexi Ogando(notes) down the right-field line that landed inches from the glove of a sliding Nelson Cruz(notes), a single that scored David Freese(notes) and snapped a 2-2 tie.
“I was down in the clubhouse getting my legs loose because I had a feeling a pinch-hit opportunity was coming up,” Craig said. “It was a close game. I was ready.
“Right when I hit it, I thought it was a hit right off the bat. But Cruz made an unbelievable effort getting there, I couldn’t believe he got that close to it. … I was just glad it fell.”
Craig will get a lot more opportunities when the series moves to Texas after Game 2 because a designated hitter will be employed. He either will be the Cardinals’ DH or will play outfield with Holliday or Berkman serving as DH.
“I’m definitely anticipating that happening,” Craig said. “I can’t wait to get four at-bats in a game, then do it again the next day.”
Craig, 27, batted a robust .315 with 11 home runs in 200 at-bats during a regular season marred by injury and the lack of a full-time position. He was drafted out of the University of California in 2006, signed and toiled in the low minors while the Cardinals eventually won the World Series that year. Five years later he provided the first major highlight in the team’s next appearance on baseball’s biggest stage.
[Slideshow: Top moments from World Series Game 1]
“Cold-weather game, sitting on the bench, then facing Ogando,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “That’s a tough situation. He has a history of coming through in those situations and he has a good career ahead of him.”
Until Wednesday, Craig was best known for the Twitter account of his pet tortoise. Torty the Tortoise has nearly 7,000 followers @TortyCraig.
Torty, of course, has a shell, but the Cardinals bullpen is rarely associated with that word, not lately. Five relievers made the narrow lead stand up. A controversial call contributed as well. With one out in the ninth, the Rangers’ Adrian Beltre(notes) hit a ground ball that appeared to bounce off his foot before rolling to third base. But the umpires ruled it was a clean groundout, and closer Jason Motte(notes) finished the game by retiring the dangerous Nelson Cruz on a fly out to left field.
The game began in 49-degree temperatures, the third-lowest for a World Series opener since records began to be kept in 1975. Starting pitchers Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals and C.J. Wilson(notes) of the Rangers appeared to benefit from the cold, keeping the game scoreless until the fourth inning.
A popular topic before the series was the quick hook employed by both managers in the championship series. Starters weren’t sharp and were lucky to last even five innings. The bullpens were excellent and it was assumed relievers would be leaned on early and often again.
Carpenter and Wilson kept the managers in their dugouts despite early wildness. Both pitchers benefited from double plays and kept the game scoreless until bottom of the fourth when the Cardinals scored two runs.
Wilson hit Pujols in the foot to begin the inning, then Holliday and Berkman did precisely what a right-handed hitter ought to against a left-handed pitcher: take a pitch on the outside part of the plate and drive it to the opposite field. Holliday’s double down the right-field line sent Pujols to third and Berkman’s shot just inside the first-base line scored both runners.
The Rangers quickly answered in the fifth on a two-run home run by Mike Napoli(notes), the first mistake made by Carpenter, who relied almost exclusively on his two-seam fastball throughout. In his brilliant shutout of the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 5 of the division series, Carpenter threw a curve about one-third of the time. He only threw seven curves in his six innings Wednesday.
“Carp, he did what he usually does,” Craig said. “He was our leader out there tonight. “Went out there and threw strikes, got early outs, and he led us tonight. It was great.”
Strategy heated up in the sixth when David Freese doubled with one out and moved to third on a wild pitch. With two out, No. 8 hitter Nick Punto(notes) was walked intentionally for a second time, bringing up Carpenter’s spot. La Russa didn’t hesitate, telling Craig to grab a bat even though Carpenter still appeared to have gas in his tank.
Rangers manager Ron Washington countered by bringing in the hard-throwing Ogando, and he blew two fastballs past Craig after the first pitch was a ball. Craig looked fastball again and got his bat around just enough for the ball to land about a foot inside the foul line and a few inches from Cruz’s glove.
“You’ve got to give Craig credit, he got it done,” Washington said. “They beat us. We didn’t give this one away.”
Craig missed two months after suffering a fractured knee in early June. He was batting .336 at the time of the injury and struggled to find his timing after returning because he wasn’t in the everyday lineup.
“It was a tough time,” he said. “But I worked through it and I feel great now.”
Nothing could have felt better than delivering the key hit in his first World Series game. And with the DH looming when games move to the American League city, his name will be penciled into the starting lineup.
That’s Allen Craig, not the other way around.
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