said he was good to go for the World Series, which means the St. Louis Cardinals will have their designated hitter in Boston. And Shelby Miller approached game speed during a few simulated innings, so the Cardinals, in a quiet ballpark on a Sunday afternoon, had another young power arm prepped and bullpen ready for the World Series, starting Wednesday in Boston. Guys hit and ran around and sweated out the last few drops of Friday night, which was a hell of a party, and now it was time to think again about ball, and the Red Sox, and how lovely it was in a quiet ballpark on a Sunday afternoon.
A little too quiet.
“Matheny wants some music,” somebody said, except the only people in the ballpark were players, clubbies, reporters and the grounds crew, and unless the St. Louis Post-Dispatch posse was going to drop some a capella Billy Davis Jr. (St. Louis guy) on batting practice, something needed to be done.
The solution came in an orange extension cord, which was run from the photo well to the grass near the batting cage. Assistant hitting coach Bengie Molina connected the cord to a small speaker, the kind you might have in your kitchen, then connected the speaker to his iPhone, and then searched for some suitable BP music.
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“OK, I got Kenny G…” he said, and everybody laughed, and he tapped more icons. Satisfied, he said, “Sorry for the swear words. Try not to hear those.”
And that is how Notorious B.I.G. serenaded Mike Matheny and the Cardinals into the World Series, and became the soundtrack to Craig’s return to the middle of the Cardinals’ lineup, and filled a little corner of a quiet ballpark until hitting coach John Mabry had had enough and hit play on some Blue Oyster Cult.
The most important element of all that, whether to “Fear the Reaper,” or “Sweet Caroline” or the P-D staff’s version of “Let the Sunshine in,” is the return of Craig, one of the accomplished – and somewhat overlooked – pure hitters in the league. For five months he batted .315, with a .373 on-base percentage. He hit a ridiculous .454 in 130 at-bats with runners in scoring position, almost entirely while batting fourth for the Cardinals, who as a team hit an as-ridiculous .330 with runners in scoring position. (By comparison, the Dodgers, just eliminated by the Cardinals in the NLCS, batted .252 with runners in scoring position. The Red Sox, who scored more runs than anyone – the point of all this – hit .278.)
On a routine rounding of first base early in September, Craig rolled his left foot and ankle. The resulting injury – a small fracture in his foot – meant he’d miss the final four weeks of the regular season, and the division series, and the NLCS. In recent days, he’d begun hitting in batting practice and simulated games, and Sunday afternoon said he was healthy and sharp enough to play in Game 1 on Wednesday.
This was of particularly good news to Craig, who’d spent the past seven weeks watching baseball, and the past three weeks watching playoff baseball, dashing from the dugout to the video room and back, trying to stay engaged with what was going on between pitchers and hitters, but mostly wishing he was out there. The Cardinals have averaged fewer than three runs over 11 postseason games, including the nine runs they hung on the Dodgers (seven on Clayton Kershaw) in Game 6. So, assuming Craig can be something like he was in the regular season (As Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said, “To simulate Game 1 of the World Series is virtually impossible.”) after the lengthy layoff, the Cardinals could be much better offensively against the Red Sox.
“My swing feels good,” Craig said.
And the foot, well, good enough.
“I can tell there’s a little something in there,” he said. “It’s a little sore, but we’ll continue to work through it.”
He’ll benefit from the break between series. And he’ll benefit from the series opening in the American League park, as he can DH. There’s been little conversation about Craig returning to first base, but that wouldn’t be necessary until Saturday, in Game 3. In the meantime, Matt Adams, who hit well in the division series and cooled in the NLCS, will be the regular first baseman.
“If nothing else,” Mozeliak said, “he adds a little more pop off this bench.”
More likely, Craig gives the Cardinals a very productive DH, which is no small element for a National League team in the World Series. American League teams, some of which build their lineups around the DH, the Red Sox being one of those, often have an offensive advantage in their ballparks. The past six World Series, for example, have seen National League DH’s named Hector Sanchez, Ryan Theriot, Chris Coste and Ryan Spilborghs.
“I feel like I’ve continued to get better,” Craig said. “I’m happy with where I’m at. It is what it is. I’m going to get out there and play.”
So, there it is. Let the sunshine in.