ST. LOUIS — Cardinals manager Mike Matheny wanted Allen Craig’s bat in the lineup, but not at the expense of his health.
In the hours before Game 3 of the World Series Saturday night, the idea of Craig even taking ground balls to test out how he felt after coming back from a Lisfranc injury that had sidelined him for seven weeks seemed risky.
The wisest decision, Matheny figured, was to leave his slugger out of the starting lineup.
But if there came a moment when the Cardinals could use his bat late in the game in a pinch-hit situation, Matheny said he would do it.
That moment came with one out in the bottom of the ninth, with Yadier Molina on first and the Cardinals locked in a 4-4 tie with the Red Sox.
With all of eight plate appearances under his belt in this year’s playoffs, Craig’s task was to get a hit off Koji Uehara, possibly the Sox’ most untouchable reliever.
That was the easy part. Craig ripped a double to left field, sending Molina to third.
Everything else was a mashup of chaos and grit.
When Jon Jay dribbled a ground ball to Dustin Pedroia at second, Craig somehow had to get a body that wasn’t 100 percent to wheel around the basepaths.
Pedroia fired home to gun down Molina at the plate.
Then, Sox catcher Jarrod Satalamacchia saw Craig lumbering into third and tried to throw him out.
The throw went wide of Will Middlebrooks at third.
After sliding into the bag, Craig got tangled with Middlebrooks, trying desperately to pick himself up, crawling over Middlebrooks and all but hobbling home.
The ball beat him to the plate, but when the dust settled he was safe, scoring the run that decided a wild 5-4 win that gave the Cardinals a 2-1 lead in the series.
Umpires ruled that in the pileup at third, Middlebrooks obstructed Craig.
No matter how it was ruled, the fact that Craig was even able to play the hero role was more than the Cardinals could have ever hoped for.
“This is a guy that, he took an extra step, he pushed through just to get on this roster,” said second baseman Matt Carpenter. “This was one of those deals where he was not 100 percent, but he wanted to be out there and he thought he could help us — with at-bats.
“Then to be put in a situation where running as hard as you can can possibly win a game and he hasn’t really gotten to be able to do that physically, and he still did it, pushed through
The play, Carpenter said, was inspiring.
“This guy, I don’t think people realize how tough this injury is and how bad [it is],” Carpenter said. “This was Kirk Gibson-esque. For him to come off the bench and to hit a double and then score and hustle and basically — hopefully he didn’t do it — but it looked like blew himself out trying to get the winning run. That’s what the postseason’s all about and that was a gutsy performance.”
Even in his condition, outfielder Matt Holliday never doubted Craig’s ability to come through
“Obviously it was huge, but he’s a great hitter,” Holliday said. “I’m not surprised, but it’s a huge hit. We expect when he’s up to bat that he’s going to get something positive. Huge at-bat, hopefully he’s OK and continue on.”
After the game, Craig’s status was uncertain.
“I think he was in pain,” said outfielder Carlson Beltran.” I don’t know exactly what happened to him, but hopefully nothing badly happened to him because he’s very valuable for us. “Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.