ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) — At this stage in his journey through the big leagues, with all the accolades and accomplishments he’s racked up throughout his career, is it possible to underrate Yadier Molina, if even for a moment?
For all the commonplace praise dished out to Yadi—both for his work behind the dish and standing beside it with a bat in his hand—Cardinals manager Mike Shildt felt his performance in a 4-2 win over the Marlins Tuesday night stood out above the run-of-the-mill excellence he’s so accustomed to seeing from the longtime St. Louis backstop.
With the Cardinals facing Miami’s ace, the electric former Cardinal Sandy Alcantara, Molina galvanized his own pitchers to the promised land of run suppression. He guided No. 5 starter John Gant and the St. Louis bullpen to help the Cardinals snare a hard-fought win on a night in which they were outhit, 7-6.
“All the credit goes to Johnny, but I gotta tell you, our catcher caught as good a game as I’ve almost ever seen tonight,” Shildt said. “And that’s saying a whole lot. He’s had a lot of big moments, he’s caught a lot of fantastic games. Again, credit to the pitchers, he’ll give it to them. But that guy behind the plate was very, very good tonight, Mr. Molina.”
The Cardinals fell behind early in the night, as an uncharacteristic misplay for Gold Glove left fielder Tyler O’Neill led directly to a Miami run. O’Neill mistimed his leap on a screaming line drive that left Starling Marte’s bat with an exit velocity of 110 mph. The ball tipped off O’Neill’s glove before he short-hopped the throw to Nolan Arenado at third to allow a run to score, little-league style.
From there, though, Molina’s calming presence kept a lid on things as Gant and company navigated stressful situations.
“He was just on point,” Shildt said. “He’s always on point, so I don’t want to minimize that. But, man, he was just amazing. You talk about the traffic that was out there all night and the different looks, the different pitchers, different circumstances, different situations. They’ve got some guys that can run. He was just on point with everything. Again, he’s on point every night so I don’t want to, by any stretch of the imagination, diminish anything. But he had a lot going on tonight, and he was amazing. In how he called pitches and how he navigated through jams. It was really, from a pure baseball standpoint, for the nuance, it’s a real thing of beauty. That’s a high compliment to a guy that’s gonna be in the Hall of Fame.”
Gant’s only clean inning of the four he threw came in the second. In the third, he hit a batter, surrendered a hit to one, then walked another to load the bases for Miami without any outs. Molina’s counsel—he provided a well-timed mound visit in the midst of the jam—and pitch-calling helped steer Gant to safety with a strikeout, infield fly, strikeout finish to the frame.
“Didn’t have the good stuff I wanted, but got into some jams and was able to kind of battle out of it, blue-collar style,” Gant said of his performance Tuesday. “And you can take a positive from that, no doubt about it.”
Gant spent 82 pitches in four innings of work, but ultimately permitted the just unearned run in the first. It was up to the St. Louis relief corps to traverse the other five innings. The Cardinals fared better offensively than the Marlins did in their own bases-loaded, no-out situation in the sixth. Despite that St. Louis didn’t notch another hit once they loaded the bases, a pair of heads-up baserunning decisions by Tommy Edman and Paul Goldschmidt decisions pushed the Cardinals to capitalize in the inning. On a night where Molina shined on the defensive side, he capped the three-run rally with a sacrifice fly.
A Dylan Carlson insurance homer in the ninth was the only other peep made by the Cardinals offense on a night where Alcantara dominated the St. Louis batting order. He struck out 10, victimizing every Cardinal hitter aside from Matt Carpenter, who went 0-for-3 with a walk in his first start of the season.
Contributions from Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos, Tyler Webb and burgeoning closer Alex Reyes sealed the series win for St. Louis, its first of 2021. Gallegos and Reyes’ efforts were particularly notable, as the duo blanked the Marlins for the second night in a row, pitching a combined 5.1 innings with six strikeouts in the back-to-back games.
Of course, with Yadier Molina making their jobs and lives a little easier, getting called into work every night isn’t so bad for Cardinals relievers.
“It was just a special night,” Shildt concluded in his compliments of the Cardinals catcher. “I thought he had a wonderful night. But I get the luxury of seeing him catch pretty much every night. Nothing really amazes me. But sometimes we can’t take it for granted, we’ve got to note it when it really, really, really stands out. And he was tremendous tonight.”
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