(BaseballStL) -- It didn’t matter if the ball was going to go out for a home run or not, Allen Craig made the catch in the final inning which gave the St. Louis Cardinals a 3-2 victory and a series win over the San Diego Padres on Sunday.
It could have gone a lot differently in the series finale with the Padres if not for the defense in the ninth inning.
The inning began with the arrival of All-Star closer Edward Mujica to the mound after Adam Wainwright completed the previous eight innings and kept the Cardinals ahead with a 3-2 lead.
The first Padres batter, Will Venable, nearly reached base as his hit trickled past a diving Matt Adams from first base, but second baseman Matt Carpenter was able to corral the ball as Mujica hustled to cover the abandoned first base for a bang-bang play for the first out.
“I really like the aggressiveness of Matt Adams for going after the ball,” manager Mike Matheny said. “A lot times you’ll see a younger first baseman kind of be tentative and not really know which way to go, but if they have trust in the pitcher getting over to first they’re going to cover a lot more ground like we’ve seen Matt do.”
The Padres started to put together a rally in the next at-bat when Alexi Amarista smacked a single up the middle before Logan Forsythe flew out to Shane Robinson to deep right field.
Jesus Guzman entered as a pinch-hitter with a runner on first base and two outs. On the second pitch, Guzman laced the ball down the left field line in fair territory for extra bases. Fortunately for St. Louis, the ball hopped into the stands for a ground-rule double which kept Amarista from scoring from first base.
Whether the hit would have stayed in play or not, Matheny felt confident there would have been at least a play at the plate.
“It looked like Allen was in a good spot,” Matheny said. “He had a pretty good jump to get a bounce off the wall, but everything went perfect. It probably would have been a train wreck at home plate though.”
Afterwards, Craig agreed that he would have had a chance to make a play at the plate.
“I thought I had a good beat on it, but a lot of times the kick is a little unpredictable,” Craig said. “That wall is pretty low. I thought it had a chance to kick right to me. It’s always tricky because you don’t know if you want to cut off the angle and go get it or take a deeper route to it. It worked out.”
Now with runners on second and third base, the Padres brought up another pinch-hitter to the plate. This time it was Jedd Gyorko, who was riding a four-game hit streak against the Cardinals.
Mujica fell behind with a 94-mph fastball early before Gyorko fouled off an 89-mph splitter. With a 1-1 count, Gyorko sent the next splitter deep to left field. It appeared to have enough juice to make it a three-run home run, at the most, and Mujica’s third blown save of the season -- until Craig made a spectacular catch at the top of the wall.
“I don’t think it would have been out,” Craig said. “I wasn’t playing that deep. He just kind of hit straight over my head so I had to get back there as quick as I could, just glad I could catch it and win that game.”
It wasn’t the first time Craig came up clutch with his defense, as noted by Carpenter.
“Man, that was outstanding,” Carpenter said. “What a play. It saved the game for us and it kind of brought back some memories of the World Series a couple of years ago.”
The catch may not have happened if not for a series of moves two innings earlier.
Matheny elected to pull Brock Peterson, who made his first major league start on Sunday, from left field in favor of bringing Craig, who started in right field, to the position as Jon Jay entered as a defensive substitute in center field in the seventh inning. Robinson, who made his 12th start of the season, moved from center to right field.
It paid off in the end, but not without a little bit of nerves for the final three outs -- especially for starter Adam Wainwright, who won his 13th game of the season.
“I still have great confidence in (Mujica) to get that job done, but at the same time you’re kind of like the nervous dad out there,” Wainwright said. “When I watch my friends do something I’m always more nervous than I do it. When I watch my daughters even at ballet or something I’m more nervous than if I was doing ballet.”
The win gave Mujica his 28th save of the season and the Cardinals their 59th win to remain two games ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates.