ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Before Sunday’s finale with the Reds, Yadier Molina received his eighth Gold Glove award, reminding everyone in attendance just how high the standard for catching is set in St. Louis. Minutes later, Eric Fryer was behind the plate, living up to the expectation.
The 30-year-old journeyman backstop, who made the 25-man roster after backup Brayan Pena hurt his knee, got his first start for the Cardinals Sunday and introduced himself to hometown fans with a bang.
“He was the man today,” said starter Michael Wacha, who threw six innings to Fryer in his most productive start of the season. “Great job behind the plate, a great mix to those batters. Then throwing guys out and huge hits for us today.”
Fryer helped Wacha reclaim the lower half of the strike zone after a one-run first inning, and took him through the sixth with no more earned runs and five strikeouts.
“Once his fastball is down, hitters don’t pick up his offspeed stuff as well, especially his changeup,” Fryer said. “So when he was able to control the zone, and the counts a little better with the fastball down, it was a big advantage for us.”
In addition to calling a sharp game and managing the staff, he also filled in for Molina as a running game deterrent. With the game tied at 3-3 in the sixth, Brandon Phillips tested Fryer with a steal attempt. The throw, which was online and in time, was made more difficult by batter Devin Mesoraco standing in his way.
"I think as catchers, we're supposed to kind of go through the hitter a little bit," Fryer said. "I kind of pulled up on it, I didn't have my best grip. I made it tougher on myself, to be honest. I was able to get enough on it and Jedd [Gyorko] made a really nice play hanging in there as long as he could and putting the tag on Phillips."
It erased the runner and established Fryer’s composure and ability. He may be the backup, but he was very much in charge.
If that weren’t enough, he went a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate with a walk, two doubles and two RBIs. The second double came in the bottom of the eighth, when he sent a ball to the wall in center field, scoring fellow surprise star Aledmys Diaz from first.
“I knew Ohlendorf likes to come at guys with his fastball, especially away. I was looking out over the plate, and he ran one over the middle probably more than he wanted to,” Fryer said.
It gave the the Cardinals a 4-3 lead, and made Fryer 6-for-6 this season at the plate.
“We finally got a good catcher that can hit,” joked Trevor Rosenthal, who closed out the ninth in just 12 pitches. “It’s exciting all these guys are doing such a great job. Different guys are stepping in and making this exciting for us, hopefully we continue to roll.”
“These guys” are a trio of improbable heroes that have won several games for the Cardinals to open the season, despite none of them being expected to make the 25-man roster out of spring. Fryer, Diaz and Jeremy Hazelbaker all found their way to the big club in the wake of injuries, and their incredible run of heroics has thrilled veteran teammates.
They are making it exciting for Cardinal fans, too. After watching four players hit the disabled list before the first series was even in the books (not to mention Lance Lynn in the offseason), Cardinal Nation was justifiably fretful. 12 games in, they feel invincible. It’s a confidence that’s infectious, that radiates out from the batter’s box each time a new name steps into the spotlight for St. Louis. Thus far no situation has been too big to intimidate the newcomers, and they’re enjoying the ride as much as anyone else.
“It’s been pretty special for all of us. It’s tough to get here, tougher to stay. To be able to contribute to a team that has a winning tradition feels really good,” Fryer said. “Up here you’re playing for keeps.”