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STL@LAD: Craig brings in three with a home run

LOS ANGELES -- It's gotten to the point that it doesn't matter who the Cardinals insert into the lineup, whomever steps into the batter's box is going to hit. And he's going to hit for power.

Subbing for Lance Berkman, who was given the night off with left-hander Clayton Kershaw on the mound for the Dodgers, right fielder Allen Craig was the latest Cardinals hitter to wreck havoc. With Albert Pujols at second and Matt Holliday on first, Craig launched a hanging slider over the left-field fence to end Kershaw's night and carry St. Louis to a 9-2 win on Saturday night at Dodger Stadium.

"He threw me a slider earlier in the game that I took for a strike, and I knew that if he got that one up that I would have a chance to do something with that," Craig said. "It was more of a reaction than anything, I was looking out over the plate and he just got it up."

The home run was Craig's first of the season and the fifth of his young career. Craig hit 40 home runs in 1 1/2 seasons at Triple-A Memphis, including 26 during the 2009 season.

Though he replaced a guy who had slugged six home runs in the past week, Craig said he didn't go into the game looking to put up Berkman-like numbers. The even-keeled mindset worked as Craig went 3-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs in front of about 15 family and friends in attendance. Craig grew up in Temecula, Calif., about an hour and a half southeast of Los Angeles.

"It was pretty cool," Craig said. "I watched a lot of games on TV at Dodger Stadium. And it was especially cool to have my family here in town."

Though the end result was the same, on Saturday the Cardinals followed a slightly different script from their previous two bash sessions against the Dodgers. Against Hiroki Kuroda and Jon Garland, the Cardinals pounded out hit after hit en route to big offensive nights.

With Kershaw providing more resistance than the two previous Dodgers starters, limiting St. Louis to only four hits through the first four innings, the Cardinals wore him down by fouling off pitches (16 in the third inning) and drawing walks (five total).

Even starter Kyle McClellan got into the act, fouling off four straight pitches before striking out to end the second.

"I think you got to start with the way our hitters just competed against Kershaw," Tony La Russa said. "Everybody who went up there just worked, and worked and worked. Fouled off a lot of tough pitches. That was really a tough piece of at-bats. ... That's the best at-bats you can have against a guy that's got that much stuff."

That strategy paid off in the third, when Ryan Theriot opened the inning with a single to left and advanced to third on walks to Colby Rasmus and Holliday. Third baseman David Freese then drove Theriot home with a sacrifice fly.

In the fourth, McClellan drew a four-pitch walk with two outs to kick-start another rally. Theriot followed with a double off the top of the wall in right-center that plated McClellan all the way from first base.

Theriot got caught in a rundown trying to advance to third on the throw home, but the damage had already been done. Kershaw was up to 101 pitches on the night and would exit the game in the next inning after giving up the Craig homer.

"I thought that one of the keys to the game was how hard we made him work," La Russa said. "Everybody just competed, just kept fouling pitches off and building up that count."

"They are swinging the bats really well," Kershaw said. "You've got to give them credit. They foul off a lot of pitches. They have good at-bats."

Apart from a shaky start to the fourth inning, when he gave up back-to-back singles to Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, McClellan was in complete control in just the third start of his career.

"Today was actually the best I felt yet this year, including Spring Training," McClellan said. "I felt like I was in control of my body. And I felt like I had all four pitches going; that I could use them in the right situations."

Despite facing runners on first and second with no outs in the fourth, McClellan minimized damage by getting the next two batters, and had catcher Gerald Laird successfully tagged out Ethier on James Loney's groundout, he would have exited the inning without giving up a run.

For the game, the Dodgers went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position against McClellan, who lasted seven innings to pick up his second win of the season.

"I feel like I have the ability to pitch out of jams," McClellan said. "I've done that in the bullpen. It's something that I learned from there. I don't panic. I just worry about executing pitches." Comments