The last time Allen Craig was on the field at Fenway Park, he and his St. Louis Cardinal teammates watched as the Red Sox celebrated their 6-1 victory in Game 6 to clinch last year’s World Series championship.
On Friday, Craig returned to Fenway Park and found a much different setting. This time he was getting acclimated after being traded along with pitcher Joe Kelly from St. Louis in exchange for pitcher John Lackey.
Craig made his Red Sox debut in left field and batted fifth, finishing 1 for 4 with a double as Boston beat the New York Yankees, 4-3, on Friday night.
Entering Friday’s game, Craig had been mired in an 0-for-13 slump.
“It felt really good to get that first hit in Fenway Park and get to second and it meant a lot,” Craig said. “I was glad to get that one out of the way. It was a special moment.”
In the first inning, former Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury lined out to Craig in left field, and Craig received a welcoming applause from the sold-out Fenway crowd.
“It was so exciting, just felt good to get out there and put the uniform on and play the game,” he said.
Before the game, Craig was focused on adjusting to his new environment and teammates.
“It’s still sinking in, just being in the clubhouse, seeing a lot of faces, putting names to faces, and I’m just looking forward to getting out there and playing ball,” Craig said.
“Last year in the World Series was my first time playing on the field and I loved it. I loved the atmosphere. It was a great experience and I’m happy to be back . . . It’s cool to be on this side of the clubhouse and learn about the guys I played against in the World Series.”
For Craig, it had been a busy couple of days.
In St. Louis, he first heard he was being traded when he saw a news report on a clubhouse television, but did not blame the Cardinals for not informing him before he saw it.
“I don’t think the Cardinals organization had any ill will with that,” Craig said. “Ideally as a player, you don’t want to find out that way. But in today’s age, I don’t see how you can keep anything under wraps. That’s not even a big deal in my mind. Information travels.”
Coincidentally, Craig’s locker in the clubhouse is near third baseman Will Middlebrooks’s. The Cardinals won Game 3 of the World Series, 5-4, and took a 2-1 series lead, after Craig notoriously tripped over Middlebrooks as he rounded third base, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Middlebrooks dived trying to catch an errant throw from catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and as the ball caromed into foul territory, Craig tripped over Middlebrooks, who was called for obstruction.
When Craig arrived in the clubhouse, Middlebrooks joked he wouldn’t trip Craig.
“It’s kind of funny we ended up on the same team,” Middlebrooks said. “We had a chance to talk about that play. I had never really heard his side of it before. But everything is fine, we’re teammates now. He’s a great player.”
Craig is expected to boost the lineup for a last-place Red Sox team that has been struggling offensively. While Craig has underperformed in 2014, hitting .237 with seven home runs and 44 RBIs with the Cardinals, he hit .312 with an .863 OPS and 46 home runs from 2011 to 2013.
“I feel like I can contribute on offense, that’s what I’ve done my entire career, and that’s what I feel like I’m going to be able to do, contribute somewhere in the lineup wherever that is,” Craig said.
“I think the first half of the season was a huge learning experience for me. That’s what this game is about. Learning and making adjustments and figuring out what pitchers are going to do to you. I feel like I learned a lot.”
With the Cardinals, Craig was primarily a right fielder and first baseman. This season, he has played 70 games in right field. In both 2011 and 2012, he played over 90 games at first base.
Before Friday night’s game, manager John Farrell said Craig would play mostly left field with the Red Sox. Yoenis Cespedes, who was acquired from Oakland in exchange for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes, will usually play right field.
Cespedes was not in the starting lineup Friday.
According to Farrell, the Red Sox had their eye on acquiring Craig throughout the season. Craig suffered through a nagging ankle injury last year.
“Coming off the ankle situation a year ago, in talking with [Sox GM] Ben [Cherington], his name had come up quite a while ago during this season,” Farrell said. “We have been able to finally get him here. This is someone we feel has a very good track record. He’ll fit well in left field here with us. That puts Yoenis in right field, where he’ll get the majority of the reps in right field going forward.”