ST. LOUIS — Allen Craig has had so much success with runners in scoring position that he is befuddled by nothing.
Craig came through again in a major way Monday night, hammering his first career grand slam in the seventh inning to power the St. Louis Cardinals to an 8-6 victory over Cincinnati.
Craig drove an 0-0 pitch from reliever J.J. Hoover into the seats in right, giving the Cardinals an 8-5 lead.
St. Louis (77-54), which moved into first place in the NL Central by 1/2-game over Pittsburgh (76-54), trailed 4-0 after two inning and 5-3 after six before Craig's two-out slam highlighted a five-run rally before 35,159 at Busch Stadium.
"That one felt pretty good," said Craig, who is batting .317 with 13 homers and a career-high 95 RBIs. "It came in a good spot for our team, and that's what matters. We did a great job in that inning, putting some at-bats together. We really battled. ... I'm glad I came through right there.
"I wasn't thinking about hitting a home run. I was just trying to put it hard in play. That's what I always do when guys are out there --just try to hit it hard no matter where it's at.
The home run was just Craig's second of the season in 220 at-bats at home. He has 19 career homers in 643 at-bats at Busch, compared to 31 in 620 at-bats on the road.
"I haven't hit too many home runs in this park," Craig said. "It was nice to know that I can still do it."
Undying applause brought Craig out of the dugout for a rare curtain call. Craig also doubled and singled in the game.
Craig is 6-for-7 (.857) with the bases loaded and two outs this season. He's batting .452 (56-for-124) with men in scoring position, including .456 with two outs (26-for-67).
"It's the norm. It really is," said Cardinals third baseman David Freese, who ignited the seventh-inning rally with a single against Mike Leake. "He's confident; he has a great approach.
"A lot of people talk about the Cardinals' team approach, but I think you can break it down to the way everyone goes about it individually. We're all different hitters, but once you find that groove and what makes you successful, you've got to find a way to keep it. I think a lot of guys in this clubhouse can do that, but Allen especially."
Matt Holliday's three-run homer in the third, a titanic 442-foot blast into Big Mac Land in left field, got the Cardinals off the deck as it whittled the Reds' lead to 4-3. Holliday has at least one RBI in six consecutive games and is batting .328 with 10 doubles, five homers and 23 RBIs in 31 games since the All-Star break.
Holliday, as has frequently been his custom in recent weeks, hurriedly dressed and left the stadium before talking to reporters. But Freese discussed the importance of Holliday's bomb.
"It was huge," Freese said. "He kind of gets knocked around a little bit for not getting big RBIs, but that's not the case. I think this year, he has a lot of game-winning ribbies. I know he makes the big bucks, but he comes through in a lot of ways, and he's done it a good amount here lately. That home run was big.
"It's hot. That's when Matt gets going. It's fun to see. He cares about winning as much as anyone in this clubhouse."
Craig, meanwhile, continues to downplay his uncanny production with runners in scoring position. Last season, he batted .400 (50-for-125) in those situations.
"It's not something I think about too much," he said. "I try to take every situation for what it is --as a new opportunity. Like I've said a million times, I feel like I've developed a pretty good approach that allows me to be successful. I believe in myself every time I'm up there. I don't know how it's going to finish out, but I'm confident in my approach every at-bat."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has a team filled with reliable clutch hitters. St. Louis is batting .328 with men in scoring position.
But clearly, Matheny said, Craig is the ringleader.
"He has been so good in that situation, with guys in scoring position. We've got a lot of guys who have," Matheny said. "But ((with Craig), it happens too often to just say it's a fluke. He's been terrific. I don't know of a bigger at-bat all season."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.