Craig can't get pinch hit off Rangers in Game 3
Sunday, October 23, 2011
ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — As St. Louis' Matt Holliday drifted from left field toward center field to catch a high flyball late in Game 3 of the World Series, another ball came zooming toward him, thrown by a fan.
"When I noticed it was a Wiffle ball, I was not that concerned," Holliday said following a 16-7 Cardinals victory Saturday night that gave them a 2-1 lead in the series. "Had it hit me, I think I would've been all right."
Center fielder Jon Jay had a better view of it all. He also was the one who disposed of the ball, which likely came from the kids' home run derby park behind that section of the bleachers.
"It was weird seeing an object flying," Jay said. "It wasn't scary, it was something different. ... I've seen it in Venezuela when I played there, it happened all the time. But it was weird to see it happen here."
Stadium officials quickly figured out who threw it. That fan and a friend with him were ejected, Rangers spokesman John Blake said.
CRAIG CONNECTS: St. Louis' Allen Craig had no chance of getting another pinch-hit RBI off Texas reliever Alexi Ogando in Game 3 of the World Series.
Craig pulled off that feat to win Game 1, then did it again for the first run in Game 2. His success earned him a spot in the starting lineup Saturday night. He was batting second and playing right field, with Lance Berkman moving to designated hitter.
His great roll continued with a solo homer in his first at-bat Saturday night. He was retired his next four at-bats, twice by strikeouts. And his burgeoning status as wielder of the Cardinals' biggest bat this series was quickly trumped by the guy hitting behind him, Albert Pujols, who set all sorts of record while going 5 of 6 with three homers and six RBIs.
Still, Craig is the first player in World Series history to have two go-ahead RBI pinch hits. For them to come in his first two World Series at-bats, and both to be so crucial, is pretty incredible. For them to come off the same pitcher, and on virtually the same pitch in the same spot is "kind of weird," Craig said.
"I've never seen anything like it," he said.
It also was the byproduct of a lot of hard work.
As a rookie in 2010, Craig went 1 for 7 with three strikeouts as a pinch hitter. He didn't exactly embrace the role for all the obvious reasons — coming off the bench means you're not starting, and the odds are stacked against a guy coming in cold with only one chance to make something happen.
But Craig took a different approach this season. He accepted that it was his way of making a difference when he didn't start. He talked to coaches Mark McGwire and Mike Aldrete about the best mindset for those chances, and the results showed. He went 7 for 22 with only a single strikeout. His .318 as a pinch hitter was even a smidge better than his .315 average in all other at-bats.
"I try to take it for what it's worth — a brief chance to impact the game," Craig said. "Most of the time, you're not going to be successful because it's that hard to do. I just try not to put too much pressure on myself and trust my ability and keep it simple. Don't try to hit the ball too hard or anything like that. Just see it, hit it and hope they can't catch it."
So is it fair to say that he no longer considers it a pain?
"It's grown on me a little bit," Craig said, smiling.
DIRK'S TOSS: Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki stood on the pitching rubber, leaned over, shook off his catcher and spit. Then he fired the ceremonial — and slightly controversial — first pitch of Game 3 of the World Series.
It was low and slower than the 80 mph he predicted on Twitter. Still, the NBA finals MVP celebrated with the elbow-duck gesture the Rangers use to punctuate great plays and savored the cheers.
Nowitzki threw out the first pitch earlier this summer, after leading the Mavs to their first NBA title. Everyone told him not to bounce it, so he kept the ball up — so far up that Michael Young "almost pulled a hamstring" trying to catch it, Nowitzki joked."This time they told me to throw a four-seam fastball," the German said, laughing. "I still don't understand what that means. But I think that's the grip I had. Or was it a two-seam fastball? I forgot."
Nowitzki was in the stands for Game 6 of the AL championship series, wearing his blue Rangers jersey with his name and basketball number, 41. Between him being a fan, and the championship connection, it only made sense for him to have this honor — except, apparently, to some MLB officials.
Nowitzki initially was told he couldn't do it, supposedly because of something to do with the NBA lockout. Once word of that spread, it was roundly panned, so baseball officials relented.
The explanation Nowitzki got for the reversal, then the reversal of the reversal?
"Kind of wishy washy," he said. "Nothing really that really made sense. ... I'm glad it worked out and I got to represent. ... I just wanted to be here and watch the game. Even if they wouldn't have let me pitch today I probably would be here and support the boys."
Nowitzki and Mavs teammate Brian Cardinal (decked out in his own customized blue Rangers jersey) watched from the second row behind the Texas on-deck circle, near team president Nolan Ryan and former President George W. Bush. Asked if he'd be back for Games 4 and 5, Nowitzki said, "If they let me. I'll have to check with the Rangers. I'm going to ask Nolan when I sit behind him today, 'What's going on with the tickets?'"
Meanwhile, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa went to dinner Friday night with Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle.
"I asked him about what we do to get an edge in this series, and he said, 'Hand the ball to Dirk,'" La Russa said. "And I said, 'I can't do that.' He said, 'This is Dallas, I can't be telling the Cardinals how to beat the Rangers.'"
GRIDLOCK: The Rangers and their NFL neighbors, the Cowboys, are doing all they can to spread the word to people with tickets on Sunday — leave early. Like, now.
The Cowboys kick off at 3:15 p.m. Sunday against, of all teams, the St. Louis Rams at their stadium, just a few blocks from the Rangers' ballpark. The Rangers and Cardinals begin Game 4 of their series at 7:05 p.m.
Because of the proximity of the venues, each team uses the others' parking lots. They can't this time, and there will be the traffic nightmare of roughly 80,000 football fans leaving around the time 50,000 baseball fans will be arriving.
"We encourage everyone to be patient and arrive early," the Cowboys wrote in a news release issued Friday.
To try unclogging things, the Cowboys are opening their parking lots at 10 a.m. The Rangers are opening their lots at 2 p.m.
FLIP IT, FLIP IT GOOD: Sluggers Josh Hamilton of the Rangers and Lance Berkman of the Cardinals will be down the street a few hours before Game 4 on Sunday taking part in the pregame coin toss for the game between their cities' NFL teams.
Hamilton will represent the Cowboys, and Berkman the Rams when the referee makes the flip.
Kickoff is at 3:15 p.m. The Rangers are scheduled to take batting practice at 4:15 p.m., and the Cardinals at 5:15 p.m.
GAME 4 STARTERS: Texas left-hander Derek Holland was a joke in his World Series debut last year. He walked all three batters he faced in Game 2, only to see them all score after he left.
Seriously, Holland himself says he jokes about how things went "because if you let it eat you up, it's going to hurt you more." He also proudly notes that he bounced back with a scoreless inning in his only other outing, the final inning of a loss in Game 4.
On Sunday night, he'll get a chance for a better World Series memory when he starts Game 3 against St. Louis and right-hander Edwin Jackson.
"To be honest, now that I'm getting to start, I have a lot more that I want," Holland said. "I feel like I've got a lot to prove after what happened last year, but it's obviously not going to take me out of my game or what I have to do for this next start."
Jackson's World Series history is similarly underwhelming. In 2008, he pitched two innings in relief for Tampa Bay in a Game 4 loss to the Phillies.
"I'm definitely going to take advantage of it and do my best and leave it on the field," Jackson said.
Both starters are 1-0 this postseason, and both their teams are 3-0 when they start. They haven't exactly been innings-eaters, though.
Jackson has gone from six innings to 4 1-3 to two innings. His ERA is 5.84 and opponents are hitting .314. Holland has gone 2 2-3 and 4 2-3 in his last two starts.
Jackson started once against Texas this season and lost, giving up four runs on 11 hits over 5 1-3 innings while pitching for the White Sox.
MISSING MITCH: A year ago, rookie first baseman Mitch Moreland was a surprise standout for the Texas Rangers in the postseason as the went to their first World Series.
Going into Game 3 of this year's World Series, Moreland was hitting only .105 (2 for 19) in the playoffs and hadn't yet played against the St. Louis Cardinals. And the left-hander wasn't in the lineup against a right-handed pitcher Saturday night.
"It's obvious he hasn't had a very good playoffs compared to last year," manager Ron Washington said Saturday. "We certainly haven't given up on Mitch."
Moreland didn't make his major league debut until late July 2010 after Justin Smoak was traded for Cliff Lee. But Moreland played 15 of 16 playoff games last year (starting 13 at first base) and a team-best .348. He was 6 of 13 in the World Series, including a homer in Game 3 at Rangers Ballpark, and was the only Texas player with a hit in every World Series game.
In 134 games this season, his first full season in the majors, he hit .259 with 16 homers and 51 RBIs.
"He's progressed a heck of a lot," Washington said. "He handled himself well when things didn't go as well. That's growth. We've still got a lot of confidence in Mitch."