Craig's link to Snider a point of pride

Craig's link to Snider a point of pride

Craig's link to Snider a point of pride
ARLINGTON -- By coming through in two virtually identical situations against Rangers right-hander Alexi Ogando in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series, Cardinals slugger Allen Craig became the third player in history to notch a go-ahead hit in the sixth inning or later of consecutive Fall Classic games, joining Amos Otis (1980 Royals) and Hall of Famer Duke Snider (1952 Dodgers).

Yeah, it's a quirky accomplishment -- especially for a player whose primary focus is on starting Saturday's Game 3 and likely being in the lineup for three straight World Series games, now that American League rules will be in play.

But the link to Snider holds a special meaning to Craig.

The late Snider -- the slugging center fielder nicknamed "The Silver Fox" who died on Feb. 27 at age 84 -- had a memorable impact on Craig's teenage years. Craig attended Chaparral High School in Temecula, Calif. -- located about 90 miles Southeast of Los Angeles -- and played on the same team as Snider's grandson Brandon Snider.

Duke Snider watched several of Craig's high school games -- "He loved watching him play," Brandon Snider said -- and even had Craig participate in an amateur home run derby he hosted in his hometown of Fallbrook, Calif.

"I met him a couple of times," Craig said of the elder Snider. "He was at the high school games a lot, so doing that was special to me. I know it wasn't an all-time home run record or anything, but it's special to me to be in the same sentence as Duke."

After Thursday's stinging 2-1 loss to the Rangers at Busch Stadium, one that would've had the same hero if not for a ninth-inning bullpen hiccup, Craig decided to e-mail his old high school teammate, with whom he has managed to keep in touch through the years.

So Craig copied the section of the article that stated his connection to the elder Snider and underneath it simply wrote the words: "It's an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence."

Said Brandon Snider, now a math teacher at Novato High School in California, "It was perfect."

"As soon as I read it [Friday] afternoon, looking back, it was almost like I was getting a chance to watch my grandfather play, when I never had a chance to," Snider, who watched Thursday's game attentively, said in a telephone interview. "I was watching someone do the same things that my grandfather did and reminiscing about watching last night, hoping and crossing my fingers, and rooting for the Cardinals in a way that I'm rooting for the Dodgers every day of the year. It kind of gave me a flashback to what it might've been like if I would've watched my grandfather play. It was just this strange, eerie, funny, goose-bump-giving parallel that I felt after reading that e-mail."

Craig has four hits in his past five at-bats as a pinch-hitter, with four RBIs, and he has come through with a pinch-hit RBI in three straight playoff games, tying an all-time record.

He hit a two-run single in the Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Brewers; a two-out single in the sixth inning off Ogando to put the Cardinals ahead, 3-2, in Game 1 of the World Series; and a two-out, seventh-inning single that temporarily put the Cardinals ahead, 1-0, in Game 2.

Lance Berkman recently surmised that Craig could "would be hitting fourth in about three-quarters of the lineups in the Major Leagues."

On Saturday night, he'll play right field and hit somewhere a little lower for a team that has a chance to win it all.

"I'm excited about it," said Craig, who will have his parents, sister, fiancée and a few friends watching from the stands. "I'm not going to over-think it or put too much emphasis on it, like, 'These are three games, the biggest opportunity.' It is a good opportunity, but I'm just going to go out there and play a normal game and see what happens."

In his second Major League season, one that saw him play six different positions and miss a combined 2 1/2 months during two separate stints on the disabled list, Craig hit .313 with a .363 on-base percentage and nine homers in 47 games as a starter, and he batted .318 with a .348 on-base percentage in 23 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter.

His productive bat and versatility proved to be a valuable commodity on a veteran NL team. So when he missed two months with a fractured right patella from early June to early August, the Cardinals sorely missed him.

"You could see the impact he has if he were getting ample at-bats," Cardinals senior vice president and general manager John Mozeliak said. "He's got tremendous power, driving balls to the gaps. And so, when you have a hitter who's capable of hitting in the middle of your order playing, that's a loss."

The focus right now, of course, is only on the upcoming three games Craig figures to start in. But it's hard not to think of Craig -- already 27 and in his sixth season of professional baseball -- and not consider the fact that he still doesn't have a set position if Albert Pujols re-signs with the Redbirds for 2012 and beyond.

Mozeliak feels that situation would work itself out, though.

"He's going to get plenty of opportunities next year," he said. "Whether it's left field, right field, he's going to get at-bats. That was something that we were going to try to do a lot this year, too, and it would've happened, because the season's fluid. Things happen, people get hurt."

"Obviously, I've thought about it," Craig added, "but it's not something I dwell on or anything like that. Like I've said before, I control the things I can control, and the things I can control are how I play."

Over the next three nights, Craig will have more control than ever.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.