ST. LOUIS — Right fielder Allen Craig has sensed for the last two weeks that he was close to rediscovering his swing's full potential.
Craig finally received confirmation of that fact Wednesday afternoon when the St. Louis Cardinals ripped Milwaukee 9-3 before 40,783 at Busch Stadium.
Batting fifth, Craig was 4-for-5 with two doubles and his third home run as the Cardinals (15-14) salvaged the series finale. Craig has drive in at least one run in four consecutive games.
"It definitely was a good day for me personally to get some hits and drive in some runs in some big spots," said Craig, whose average climbed 28 points to .220. "But I don't think about things like that. I'm trying to take it one at-bat at a time, one pitch at a time, as cliche as that sounds. I'm trying to keep things simple and focus on the job I have to do."
Craig hasn't been completely buried at the plate. Entering Wednesday, he had hit safely in 14 of 18 games. Yet he had batted .243 over that span because of 11 one-hit games.
"I've been hitting the ball decent; it hasn't been good enough," Craig said. "That's part of the game. You've got to get better and hit the ball a little harder. It's a long season. There's plenty of ups and downs in a season. I'm trying to get things going and get the season started and hopefully be better."
Like many of his teammates, Craig has had to fight the inner demons of doubt that are capable of eroding a hitter's confidence. Sometimes, the demons win.
"Frustration is a part of the game," Craig said. "It would be nice to go out there and play great every single game. But every season is a new season and there's adjustments to be made. I work hard to be the best that I can. I believe in myself and believe every year is going to be a good year. That's my focus.
Craig flied out to center in his first at-bat Wednesday. He followed with a double in the third, a two-run double in the fourth that gave the Cardinals a 6-3 lead, a bases-empty homer in the sixth that made it 9-3 and a single in the eighth.
"It was nice to see some big production that we know is going to come from certain guys," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, whose club collected 13 hits. "Especially a big day for Allen. Watching the ball jump off his bat, you could see it coming. He's in a good spot now and hopefully we'll keep passing it on to a couple of other fellows."
Turn off those lights!
A pair of extra-inning losses didn't well with Matheny.
After a 5-4 defeat in 11 innings to Milwaukee on Tuesday, Matheny stewed, then spent the night in his office.
"I camped out here. By the time I got through sulking, it was way too late to drive home," said Matheny, who had folded the blankets he used but had not put away them or the pillows.
It's reasonable to assume that Matheny won't make a habit of turning his office into a bedroom.
"The couch was great, but the motion-sensor lights really stink," Matheny cracked. "There was almost glass all over that office. If I was smart enough to cover (the sensor) up ... But in the middle of the night, I wasn't thinking my best.
"For the most part, I've been pretty fortunate. I get (losses) thought out and then I sleep pretty good. These last couple, a lot of sorting to do. I usually use the drive home to kind of unwind some of that, too, but I think everybody's pretty wiped out right now. It didn't take long to fall asleep once I finally allowed myself to stop thinking."
Garcia gets nod
Rookie Greg Garcia, recalled from Class AAA Memphis on Sunday night, made his first start and doubled over first to lead off the fifth for his first major-league hit, against Wei-Chung Wang.
"I saw it get down the line and I just wanted to try to get to second base," Garcia said of his hit. "When I got to second, I kind of gave myself a second to think about my family and God and how blessed I am to be in the big leagues. That quickly changed back to game mode and getting ready to score."
Which is what Garcia did when Shelby Miller doubled two batters later.
Garcia's parents, Dave and Belinda, traveled from San Diego and were in St. Louis for all three games of the series. But they were unaware that Garcia was in the starting lineup.
"I didn't tell them. I let them find out for themselves. I thought that would be an exciting way to do it," Garcia said. "I wanted to go out and relax and I didn't want them to get too anxious before the game."
Matheny was glad to tell Garcia about his start.
"You're reminded of that first chance you had and how special that is," Matheny said. "He'll never forget this, just like Randal (Grichuk) will never forget (Tuesday) night --being able to throw a hit in there and make some nice plays defensively as well."
Grichuk also was recalled from Memphis on Sunday. He had his first hit Tuesday night, a single.
Take a break
Catcher Yadier Molina didn't play Wednesday, but capable backup Tony Cruz made sure it didn't matter.
Cruz walked twice and ended the Brewers' third by throwing out Scooter Gennett attempting to steal second.
Molina caught all 23 innings of the previous two games. With the Cardinals off Thursday, Molina will receive 48 hours of down time.