A club official said a determined Craig basically forced his way into the starting lineup on Monday for the last home game of the season at Busch Stadium, and given how he handled extensive infield grounders before the game and the club's need for pop, that is why Craig started in place of Matt Adams despite his injured left foot.
Craig grounded out in all three at-bats as the Red Sox won, 3-1, to take a 3-2 Series lead back to Boston for Wednesday's Game 6 at Fenway Park (6:30 p.m. CT air time, 7:07 first pitch on FOX). But on this night, the Cardinals as a whole were shut down offensively, and Craig handled his position adequately. He said he anticipates moving back to designated hitter when the Series returns to the American League venue.
"It just continues to improve, and I can get better," Craig said. When asked how he feels running right now, he added: "I feel OK. Obviously, it could be better. But I feel like I can contribute, and that's why I was out there."
Craig was the Cards' hero in their Game 3 victory, which ended with the obstruction call at third that resulted in his walk-off technicality. In Game 4, he came off the bench for a clutch pinch-hit single in the ninth, but his removal for pinch-runner Kolten Wong didn't work out, resulting in a game-ending pickoff. At that point, it seemed unlikely Craig would play much in Game 5, but Matheny said the club is seeing progress.
"Everything seemed to respond well today," Matheny said after Game 5. "We'll see. We'll evaluate him tomorrow and get a look at him, but most likely, I imagine he'll be in there as a designated hitter."
This is sort of familiar ground to Craig and the Cardinals. In 2011, they faced a 3-2 World Series deficit against the Rangers -- and then proceeded to make an historic run to their 11th title, practically laughing in the face of elimination. The big difference now, of course, is that they will be trying to win Game 6 and Game 7 on the road, not in the comforts of their home.
"We've been there before. Last time we were coming home, so that was a little bit different," Craig said. "But I think our guys are going to see it as a good challenge. That's how we've gotten over a lot of different things. It's going to be tough, but we just have to take it one game at a time and we can do it.
"Anything can happen. We just need to win one game at a time and two games total. It's going to be tough, but we have a good team. We're going to battle and we feel pretty good about going in there. We've got [Michael] Wacha on the mound for Game 6. We're going to battle to the end, no doubt."
Wacha was dressing across from Craig in the clubhouse, and he said it felt great to see Craig back in the lineup, inspired by Craig's determination to be in action.
"He's huge," Wacha said. "You saw what he did all season -- just clutch hits after clutch hits with guys in scoring position. He's a huge bat in our lineup, and it's good to have him back."
Craig tipped his cap to Lester, saying there was little the Cards could do in Game 5. He said Boston starters have done a good job lately of "not leaving much over the plate."
"He was really good," Craig said. "He made good pitches. He did a good job hitting corners. His cutter was pretty good tonight.
"I felt like our bats could have been better, but we hit some balls hard. Yadier [Molina] hit a couple balls hard. I hit into a double play and hit it hard just right at 'em. That's the game. Stuff happens. I felt like we battled and it just didn't happen for us today."
When asked about the ball David Ortiz ripped past first base and down the line for a double, Craig shrugged.
"I don't think I would have got it even if I was feeling 100 percent," Craig said. "He smoked it, and it was hooking down the line."