ST. LOUIS -- Allen Craig waited until the bottom of the ninth inning to come off the Cardinals' bench with a bum foot, and he wound up limping into history, the star of one of the wildest finishes to a World Series game.
"That was like Kirk Gibson-esque right there," Cards second baseman Matt Carpenter said. "That was a gutsy performance."
Another teammate was skeptical of the comparison to Gibson, whose walk-off home run beat the A's 25 years ago in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
"I don't know," Matt Holliday said. "Gibson hit it over the fence."
Craig did not hit one over the fence. His winning moment required a bit more work and a lot more pain, beginning with a clutch double that positioned the Cardinals for their thrilling 5-4 win over the Red Sox and a 2-1 lead in the Series.
The Cards' celebration was muted by the fact Craig aggravated the left foot injury that sidelined him for most of September and the first two rounds of the postseason. He was asked several times about his availability for the remainder of the Fall Classic, and each time he refused to make a prediction.
"We're going to see," Craig said.
Even if Craig's World Series is over, he has made his presence felt. After serving as the designated hitter in the first two games in Boston, he was limited to bench duty in Game 3 and was called to bat in the pitcher's spot in the bottom of the ninth inning, with the teams knotted at 4 and Yadier Molina at first base after a single.
The opponent was Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, who entered the night having held opponents to a .147 average this postseason.
Craig hit a first-pitch fastball into the left-field corner for a double.
"It felt really good to contribute like that," Craig said. "I was trying to be aggressive. He has good stuff, and you can't wait around for that split or changeup or whatever he calls it. It's a really plus pitch. I got a pitch over the plate, and I was ready to hit it."
"Obviously, it was huge," Holliday said. "He's a great hitter, he really is. I'm not surprised, but that's a huge hit. We expect when he's up to bat that we're going to get something positive."
The result was runners at second and third for Jon Jay, who hit a grounder to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. The throw home easily retired Molina, and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried for a double play with a throw that skipped past third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
|DEFINITION OF OBSTRUCTION|
|Obstruction is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.|
|Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered in the act of fielding a ball. It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the act of fielding the ball. For example: If an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.|
Craig saw the baseball get by as he slid into third, so he popped up and tried to hurdle Middlebrooks, who was lying facedown in the dirt. They tangled, Craig stumbled, then rose and lumbered toward the plate with his bad foot.
"I was just trying to get home and didn't have a lot in the tank, to be honest with you," Craig said. "That's probably the fastest I've tried to run [since his Sept. 4 injury]. I'm going to have to go look to see what happened. It happened so fast, I don't even know. I slid into third and I felt the ball get by him and I was just trying to get home. … It was just a crazy play. I had to do the obstacle course to get home and sprint home as fast as I could for the first time in a couple of months."
Craig never quite made it, but home-plate umpire Dana DeMuth signaled safe anyway.
For a moment, there was confusion.
"I didn't really know what was going on," Middlebrooks said. "Then I heard 'obstruction.' … When I pushed myself up, he was on my back pushing off of me, so what am I supposed to do?"
Craig referred several times to navigating an "obstacle course" on the way home.
"That was one of the craziest plays I've been a part of, and to finish off a World Series game like that it crazy," Craig said. "Maybe he clipped me, maybe he didn't. I'm going to have to go look at it. I don't know. It's just one of those plays, and I can't say [because] it happened so fast."
When did Craig know he was safe?
"When I saw my entire team running out there," Craig said with a smile.
"When I saw he was safe, I went out there and was cheering at him and saw he was a little banged-up," Carpenter said. "It kind of took a little away from the celebration, because you hate to see a guy in pain. But like I said, that was a gutsy performance from him."
While Craig could not have imagined the bizarre circumstances, this was exactly the impact he had hoped to have in October. While the Cardinals beat the Pirates in the National League Division Series and the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series, Craig rehabbed.
Craig returned to action in Game 1 of the World Series as the Cards' cleanup hitter. Not exactly easing back into action.
"I feel like I prepared myself pretty well while I was hurt and had some live batting practice opportunities against our own guys and had extra at-bats," Craig said. "Starting this series off as DH was perfect for me to try to get my feet wet without having to do too much defensively."
So when the moment arrived Saturday, Craig was reasonably ready.
"This is what you live for, to be able to contribute in World Series games," he said. "I'm just glad I got the opportunity to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 3 of the World Series. It was an awesome job of Yadi getting on base and giving me a runner out there."
Asked about his availability for Game 4, Craig said., "We're just going to see how it feels. I don't want to jump to any conclusions about anything."