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Allen Craig had never hit a big-league grand slam before Monday. And his St. Louis Cardinals had not been in first place in the NL Central all by themselves since July 29. Both of those things were remedied with Craig's seventh-inning, bases-loaded blast.
Craig's clutch grand slam erased a 5-4 lead for the division rival Cincinnati Reds and gave the Cards the eventual 8-6 victory. The win broke a tie atop of the NL Central, putting a half-game between the Cards and now-second-place Pittsburgh Pirates. The Reds, of course, are right there too. If the season wrapped today, the NL Central would send three teams to the playoffs.
After the game, Craig told MLB.com that Monday's was a game his squad needed given the tight standings:
"It's huge," Craig said after his three-hit night. "There's a decent amount of games left, but in the grand scheme of things, not really. It's getting to crunch time. Our schedule has been extremely tough, and it doesn't get any easier. We needed to win this game. It's the start of a big series."
A half-game lead in late August doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but in a division that promises to be close to the end, this could be one of those games we look back to in late September as having been crucial. Particularly if the Cards gained some momentum Monday night. St. Louis plays the Reds again Tuesday and Wednesday before heading to Pittsburgh for a weekend series. In an important week, this was a heck of a way for St. Louis to start.
MEANWHILE IN THE CELLAR: A battle with playoff implications this was not, but the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox, the two teams with the worst records in the American League, played an exciting game nonetheless Monday night.
The Astros won 10-8 in a game decided on back-to-back ninth inning homers by Matt Dominguez and Chris Carter. Before that, the White Sox had a five-run sixth inning and Carter had both a fifth-inning homer and a seventh-inning single for the Astros.
The White Sox looked like they had a chance to come back in the bottom of the ninth too, as they loaded the bases with two outs before Avisail Garcia struck out to end the game.
Dodgers 6, Cubs 2: Zack Greinke throws 8 2/3 shutout innings and has an RBI single at the plate. Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez also homer for the Dodgers.
Rangers 8, Mariners 3: A.J. Pierzynski's three-run homer in the seventh inning caps the Rangers win.
D-backs 6, Padres 1: Brandon McCarthy gets his first win since May 28.
Rockies 6, Giants 1: Todd Helton and the Rockies beat up on Barry Zito and the Giants.
Phillies 2, Mets 1: Cliff Lee gives up five hits and one run in eight innings to lead the Phillies.
A's 8, Tigers 6: Daric Barton, in his first game back from Triple-A, has two hits and two RBIs for the A's, including a tie-breaking single in the sixth inning that put the A's ahead for good.
Blue Jays 5, Yankees 2: Derek Jeter goes 0-for-3 in his return from the disabled list, as R.A. Dickey and the Blue Jays top the Yanks.
Royals 11, Rays 1: In a make-up game of a snowed-out, early-season game, the Royals pour on the runs.
"I always feel like I can play," Jeter said. "I'll talk to [Girardi]. My job here is to play, so I want to be in there."
— Derek Jeter, after his 0-for-3 return to the Yankees lineup.
The Dark Knight and Captain America can't help the Mets in their loss to the Phillies.
• Zack Greinke is hitting .340 after his single on Monday night. He has 16 hits and four RBIs.
• The A's put Josh Reddick on the 15-day disabled list with a right wrist injury.
• After Monday's blistering loss, Barry Zito is 0-8 with a 9.61 ERA on the road this season.