BOSTON -- The Cardinals did what they could on Tuesday to prepare for the defensive challenges of Fenway Park's Green Monster. But the unique structure also has a way of playing with the minds -- and approaches -- of hitters.
Fenway Park's left-field wall, though it stands approximately 37 feet tall, is both parts imposing and attractive to hitters. Its height restricts line-drive home runs, but its proximity to home plate can also make it an appealing target. Down the left-field line, the Green Monster sits only 310 feet away from home. Some hitters have seen that as an invitation to try to direct balls toward left field.
That can be a detriment if it takes them away from a more natural approach, though manager Mike Matheny countered that it can also be worth aiming for if it plays into a batter's strength.
"I think there have been enough people who change their approach and have success," Matheny said. "When you look at some of the things that they do, even spray charts, this team, they approach their at-bats different at home than they do away. I think you go with your own strength first. You don't try to make something out of nothing, but if you have an opportunity, take advantage of it."
For those Cardinals hitters who are first-time visitors to Fenway Park, they had two sessions of batting practice to test their swings against the dimensions.
"We've gotten to this point as an offense just doing what we do and focusing on our approach and grinding out at-bats," said Allen Craig, who returned to the lineup on Wednesday after a seven-week layoff. "The Green Monster is what it is. It's out there. It can work in your benefit in some circumstances, but it's not something we're going to try to take advantage of, I think."
After seven-week layoff, Craig returns in cleanup spot
BOSTON -- Dapper Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak proudly showed off his necktie to a gaggle of reporters before Game 1 of the World Series, an orange number dotted with tiny turtles and baseball caps.
"Torty is back and hitting cleanup," he said with a smile.
The Torty reference was a nod to Allen Craig, whose pet tortoise gained fame during the Cardinals' run through the 2011 postseason. Torty's owner returned to the Cardinals' lineup on Wednesday after a seven-week layoff, and was indeed batting cleanup despite not seeing a "real" pitch since he suffered a severe left-foot sprain on Sept. 4.
For weeks now, this has been Craig's target. But Mozeliak packed an extra bowtie, sans Torty, just in case Craig couldn't be ready in time.
"It first started with the medical threshold, that he wasn't going to put himself in a situation where he could have a major setback," Mozeliak said. "They really wanted to make sure the ankle was stable, which it is.
"Then it became how quickly could he advance in a baseball scenario? We pushed him as best we could, giving him as much exposure to live pitching as we could, to make sure his timing is right. This obviously wasn't the perfect place to do it, but he worked extremely hard. Basically, based on what we saw over the last week, we felt comfortable we could do this."
It is a major acquisition for St. Louis. Craig batted a ridiculous .454 in 152 plate appearances with runners in scoring position during the regular season, the third-best mark over the past four decades behind George Brett's .469 in 1980 and Tony Gwynn's .459 in 1997.
The question is how quickly Craig can rediscover his timing. Mozeliak said he wasn't worried.
"The one thing this young man has always been able to do is hit," he said. "You look at his approach, it's a very clean, short approach to the ball. It's going to be a lift for this lineup just knowing he's in there."
The Red Sox were not taking Craig lightly, despite his extended absence. Boston manager John Farrell cited the Tigers' Jhonny Peralta, who served a 50-game suspension in August and September but batted .333 with five extra-base hits in 10 postseason games, including the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox.
"I'm sure they're feeling pretty good that they can use him in the DH role," Farrell said. "We also recognize that there's been 40-some games missed, and that's not being taken lightly on our part, because we've seen guys step back in after sizable games missed and have performed very well. ... Anytime you have the ability to lengthen out the lineup with that kind of power bat in the middle, it's a further challenge for us."
Craig did not take ground balls at first base on Wednesday, and it remains to be seen whether he appears as anything beyond a pinch-hitter when the Series shifts to St. Louis for Games 3-5.
"Everybody keeps asking me, 'Does this mean he'll play first next week?' And I don't know," Mozeliak said. "We have 72 hours to cross that bridge. Let's just see how tonight goes first."
Matheny starts Robinson over Jay in Game 1
BOSTON -- As he did in the final game of the National League Championship Series, manager Mike Matheny turned to Shane Robinson, not Jon Jay, to start in center field in Game 1 of the World Series.
Robinson drew his first starting assignment against Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw and responded with two hits in as many at-bats. That was three days after he delivered a pinch-hit home run to help the Cardinals seal a Game 4 win over the Dodgers. With Boston sending lefty Jon Lester to the mound on Wednesday, Matheny hoped for continued production from the right-handed-hitting Robinson.
"I'm going with who is going to give us the best chance every night," Matheny said. "To me, it's strictly how well everything clicked last game and having faith that you can keep going. But I still have a lot of faith in Jon Jay as well. I think what Shane did last time, what the club did last time, and it made it pretty obvious to me."
Matheny was quick to add, though, that this is not necessarily the start of a platoon situation. Jay was the team's primary center fielder during the regular season and started 22 of the 42 games the Cardinals played against lefty starters. He was in the Cardinals' postseason lineup against lefties Francisco Liriano, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Kershaw (his first of two starts) earlier this month.
"We know that tough left-handers you're going to be scratching and clawing for runs," Matheny said. "So we try to take every chance we can offensively when we can. And Shane did a great job, and has deserved another opportunity. Whether that's a straight platoon or not, I don't know. We'll see day to day as opportunities present themselves."
For Robinson, this will be his first time playing the outfield in Fenway Park. It is not, however, his first visit. He said he came here with his baseball team in high school.
Robinson spent time in the days leading up to the World Series talking with corner outfielders Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday about the nuances of the outfield dimensions to prepare for any potential surprises.
"There are challenges in every stadium you go to -- the crowd aspect, the walls, surfaces, things like that," Robinson said. "Every time we travel, we go through these things and communicate with guys about what might be different compared to what we're used to. They've talked about the shortstop coming out to left [field], because the ball can take different bounces off the wall and how the center fielder has to be ready to back up on bounces."
Spectator for '04 Series, Freese relishes Fenway trip
BOSTON -- After growing up a Cardinals fan in a suburb of St. Louis, David Freese was a student at the University of South Alabama when the Cardinals matched up against the Red Sox in the 2004 World Series. He remembers watching with a vested rooting interest before quickly being disappointed by St. Louis' showing.
The Red Sox swept the Cardinals that October, bringing the organization its first World Series championship in 86 years. It did not sit so well with Freese.
"I remember the comebacker that ended it. I remember it all," Freese said. "I remember the four-game sweep. You don't expect the World Series to end in four, you really don't. But I think there are reasons why the Red Sox won in '04 in four games. This organization has talent, has character and has desire. And we equalize that. I think that's the reason why this is so special."
Two years later, Freese would be drafted by the Padres. A trade brought him back home the next year, and, though he has already won a World Series championship with the Cardinals, this October presents another career highlight for the third baseman.
"I grew up wanting to play at Fenway," said Freese. "I wanted to be a Cardinal, obviously, but to have a chance to play at Fenway is a dream come true. And to do this in a World Series is truly special. The historic nature of both these teams doesn't go unnoticed. It's incredible what the cities that surround both these stadiums bring.
"The crowd is going to be on top of you. They're going to be loud. They're going to hate us. But there's nothing better than that. You go BoSox-Cardinals World Series, arguably nothing better."
Freese isn't the only Cardinals player to wander inside the 101-year-old ballpark for the first time this week. The list of active players who have played at the ballpark sits only at six -- Yadier Molina, Randy Choate, Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, John Axford and Edward Mujica.
A handful of these first-time visitors roamed the Fenway Park stands before Tuesday's workout. When Pete Kozma and Shane Robinson arrived on Wednesday, both stopped near home plate to snap pictures of the storied structure.
"So much nostalgia and history here," said manager Mike Matheny, the Cardinals' catcher during the '04 Series. "They all went out early, just like a bunch of kids. As soon as they got off the bus or the cab, they went straight out in the stands and looked around. It's a great experience. The atmosphere here, we know it's going to be wild and loud, and that's exactly what we want. That's exactly what you would hope for in a World Series setting. I know everybody is looking forward to it."
• Red Sox manager John Farrell said on Wednesday that Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy will start games in St. Louis over the weekend. The order of those starts, however, remains undetermined. Farrell indicated that he will not slot in his Games 3 and 4 starters until after John Lackey makes his Game 2 start.
Matheny has not announced his starters for Game 3 or 4 either, though the assignments are expected to go to Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn.
• The Cardinals' reputation with runners in scoring position has made its way to Boston, where Farrell noted on Wednesday that "to think they've hit 52 points higher than us with runners in scoring position is pretty remarkable."
Indeed, the Red Sox had sufficient success with runners in scoring position this year; their .278 team average ranked third in the Majors. But the Cardinals, with a .330 average, hit better with runners on second and/or third, than any team in at least 40 years.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.