ST. LOUIS — Matt Carpenter described Allen Craig’s ninth-inning heroics as a “Kirk Gibson-esque type deal.”
“Oh man, don’t do that to me,” Craig said. “I was just trying to make a play.”
That he certainly did. Craig actually made two plays that proved to be the difference in the Cardinals’ 5-4 walk-off victory in Game 3 of the World Series Saturday night.
The first showed his talent as a hitter, the second his guts as a ballplayer.
Start with the hit. With one out, one on and the score 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth, Craig was called on to pinch hit against Red Sox closer Koji Uehara, the game’s most unhittable pitcher in the second half. On the first pitch, an 88-mph fastball, Craig lined a double into the left-field corner. For anyone to get a hit off Uehara was impressive. He had a 0.38 ERA after the All-Star break, with a 41-strikeout-to-one-walk ratio in 32 innings. For a guy who just came back after missing seven weeks with a foot injury, well, that was worthy of at least being mentioned with Gibson.
“You can’t wait around for that split, changeup, or whatever he calls it,” Craig said. “I got a pitch over the plate and was ready to hit.”
Then came the craziness. With the winning run on third and the Red Sox infield playing in, Jon Jay grounded sharply to second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who easily threw out Yadier Molina trying to score.
At that point, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia should have held onto the ball, but he tried to throw out Craig at third. And for the second straight game, an errant throw to third led to a Red Sox defeat. When this one went a little wide of the base, third baseman Will Middlebrooks lunged to make the catch but the ball got past him as Craig slid in.
Once the ball was past, Craig got up and tried to take off for home but stumbled over the fallen Middlebrooks. Craig chugged away, anyway, as awkwardly as you’d expect for someone running on a bad ankle. He was tagged by Saltalamacchia as he made an awkward slide at the plate.
But Craig wasn’t out.
Third-base umpire Jim Joyce had immediately called obstruction on Middlebrooks, awarding Craig home and giving the Cardinals the win.
Craig said he didn’t realize he was safe until “I saw my entire team running out on the field.”
“That was gutsy base running there on a real bad ankle,” Carpenter said. “You can’t say enough about him. He’s banged up, not even close to 100 percent. He could have taken it easier and protected his body. No, he went all-out and we won the game.”
Though many of his teammates said they didn’t know exactly what happened, they rushed the plate when they knew Craig was safe. They came to mob him but let up when they saw he was hurting.
Craig had to be helped off the field and to the trainer’s room, where he spent more than half an hour following the game. He didn’t limp through the clubhouse, but he didn’t look very comfortable.
“I feel OK, a little sore,” Craig said. “Just trying to get home, I didn’t have much in the tank, to be honest with you. That’s probably the fastest I’ve tried to run in the past two months.”
While the play certainly was bizarre, it was called correctly.
From umpire crew chief John Hirschbeck: “Obstruction is the act of a fielder obstructing a runner when not in the act of fielding a ball. There does not have to be intent.”
“I could tell (something happened),” Craig said. “I had to try to jump over him. I don’t know if he clipped me or not, it happened so fast. I was just trying to make the play.”
Said Joyce: “When he tried to advance to home plate, the feet were up in the air and he tripped over Middlebrooks and immediately and instinctually I called obstruction.”
The Red Sox, understandably, weren’t happy to be dealt such a loss by the rulebook, not after twice rallying from two-run deficits. But then, the Cardinals weren’t thrilled to have a call overturned — correctly — against them in Game 1.
“Tough way to have a game end, particularly of this significance, when Will is trying to dive inside to stop the throw,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “I don’t know how he gets out of the way when he’s lying on the ground. When Craig trips over him, I guess by the letter of the rule you could say it’s obstruction. That’s a tough pill to swallow.”
Knowing the recent history of the World Series doesn’t make it easier for the Red Sox, either. The Game 3 winner has ended up winning 67 percent of the World Series, including 11 of the past 12.
Craig entered the Series just thankful to have an opportunity to play for the first time since suffering a Lisfranc injury on Sept. 4. After serving as the DH at Boston, he was limited to pinch-hitting in Game 3. He made the most of his opportunity.
“This is what you live for, to be able to contribute in World Series games,” Craig said. “I’m glad I got the opportunity to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 3 of the World Series.”
And even happier to produce the winning play, Gibson-esque or not.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.