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Yadier Molina, Living Legend, Is Not Slowing Down. He’s Gearing Up.

After losing three consecutive games including the first two during a four-day stay in Milwaukee, the Cardinals found themselves in a jam late Saturday afternoon. Already in an shaky state of mind after losing on a stunning walk-off homer on Friday night, the Cardinals were jumped by the Brewers for two runs in the bottom of the first inning.

Quick. Somebody do something to calm the game down.

To give the Cardinals a chance to breath.

To make the boys realize it was possible to find their way out of the storm. 

Yadier Molina led off the top of the second by discharging Chase Anderson’s 3-1 pitch over the right-center wall at Miller Park. A solo shot … and a shot to settle the nerves. The Cardinals were down 2-1, but needed just a swing or two to change the weekend.

Molina would strike again in the sixth inning after Marcell Ozuna’s leadoff single. Milwaukee reliever Jeremy Jeffress’s 96 mph fastball drifted back over the plate, and Molina visited the right-center wall again, with two-run homer bouncing off the top of the barrier and into the Cards’ bullpen. With Molina leading them out of a volatile mix of bad days, the Cardinals were suddenly up 3-2. And the St. Louis bullpen would protect Molina’s gift of two home runs and three RBIs.

“He did some damage today,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of Molina. “He was their offense.”

Instead of staggering to a fourth straight loss, the Cardinals got straightened out by Molina for a one-run win that lifted the mood and carried them into Sunday’s 8-2 flogging of Milwaukee starter Jhoulys Chacin. Instead of getting chased out of Miller Park with brooms, the Cardinals avoided a four-game sweep, prevented a 1-3 weekend, and played to a 2-2 draw that left them 4.5 games behind the Brewers in the NL Central table.

Is anyone surprised to see Molina deal with the emergency? He’s in his 15th year of handling pitchers, scouting reports, pitch selection, leadership, and opposing team base runners. Molina will turn 36 years old on July 13, and when he starts Monday against the visiting Cleveland Indians it will his 1,796th career regular-season game as a Cardinal.

Right now Molina, at 1,795  is tied with the late and beloved Red Schoendienst for fifth place for most games played in franchise history. Next in line to pass is Enos Slaughter (1,820 games) so in a few weeks Molina will have competed in more regular-season games for the Cardinals than everyone except Stan Musial (3,026), Lou Brock (2,289) and Ozzie Smith (1,990.)

If you are inclined to include postseason games played through the Cardinals’ vaunted history, Molina’s total of  89 playoff contests would run his count to 1,884 games and take him past Slaughter. With only Stan, Lou and Ozzie there waiting for him.

To move into the fourth position on  that  list for  this  franchise, you have to play for a very long time, and last a long time, and probably drag your beaten-down body to the finish line. But for the love of Tim McCarver, this man is a CATCHER … a catcher! … who as of Monday afternoon June 25 has logged 15,525 and 2/3 heavy-duty innings behind the plate in service to the Cardinals and their pitchers.

Can we even comprehend the degree of throbbing pain, the welts and contusions, and the gradual tearing down of the body that’s part of Molina’s work? On June 5 Molina came off the disabled list after spending a month recovering from surgery to halt internal bleeding and swelling after a foul ball ricocheted full force into the two most sensitive sensitive parts of the male anatomy. (Hell, I’m still in pain just for having watched the replay of that.)

Does this look like an aging, gimpy, relic of an athlete to you? Molina is still as frisky as the 22-year-old rookie who swatted his first career homer at the same yard — Miller Park — on Sept. 23 of 2004. The Cardinals and Brewers were tied 2-2 after seven innings. Reggie Sanders struck out. John Mabry grounded out. The big-kid catcher stepped up, centered a 3-2 pitch from Matt Wise, and deposited his first big-league bomb. It was the winning blow in the Cards’ 4-2 victory … just as the 35-year-old  Molina’s career homer No. 137  the Cardinals a desperately needed 3-2 win on Saturday. And what a cool coincidence, by the way.

“He was such a young player when he came up,” said Cards manager Mike Matheny after Saturday’s win. Of course, Matheny was the starting catcher for the 2004 Cardinals, until Molina took over at he start of 2005. Little did Matheny — or anyone know — that the youngest of the three catching Molina brothers would go on to set a major-league record for most games caught with one team.

“You figured there was going to be room for improvement but the route he has taken is unique because you can’t always count on that kind of willpower,” Matheny said. “He’s as driven a player as I’ve ever seen.”

Molina isn’t some decrepit old catcher hanging on for a paycheck and some final hurrahs and to put some extra padding on his stats before limping into retirement. Since Molina returned from the groin emergency, he’s powered for three doubles, five homers, 14 RBIs and a .567 slugging percentage in 70 plate appearances. If you try to hand this man a cane, he may whack you upside the head with it.

Through Sunday this is where Molina ranks among MLB and National League catchers in some key offensive categories, and please keep in mind that these are the stats based on what Molina does with the bat when he’s catching. It doesn’t include pinch hitting or other extraneous at-bats … just his plate appearances when he’s in the lineup or entering the game as a catcher:

— Molina’s  .293 batting average is 4th overall,  3rd in the NL.

— His .319 OBP is 12th overall, 9th in the NL.

— His .500 slugging percentage (in his at-bats as a catcher) is 2nd in MLB and 2nd in the NL.

— His .819 OPS is 3rd overall, 3rd in the NL.

— Molina’s .227 ISO (isolated power) is 4th overall, 2nd in the NL.

— His 11 homers are tied for 2nd overall, and tied for first in the NL.

— And his 31 RBIs — despite missing a month — are 5th among MLB catchers, and 3rd among NL catchers.

— Molina has homered every 15.64 at-bats so far, 2nd best overall by a catcher and No. 1 by an NL catcher. He’s driven in a run every 5.55 at-bats; 3rd among MLB catchers and 2nd in the NL.

— Molina is 23 percent above league average offensively in park-adjusted runs created (wRC+) which ranks fourth overall among catchers with at least 190 PA.

I can’t write about Molina without offering a few nuggets on his defense, and career, so here goes:

  • Molina has caught 21 different Cardinals pitchers already this season.
  • Do you think Molina has helped the Cardinals bullpen this season? I sure do. Before he was inured May 5, Cardinals relievers had a 3.57 ERA. While he was on the DL, the bullpen had a 5.40 ERA. And since Molina returned the bullpen ERA is 3.60.
  • In case you’re wondering, and I’m nuts, so I just spent 20 minutes looking up all of the names, but Molina has caught 144 St. Louis pitchers since making his MLB debut with the Cardinals on June 3,  2004.
  • And here’s a fun fact: On the day Molina made his debut, current rookie Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks was 7 years, 8 months and 29 days old.
  • Molina has caught three pitchers named Reyes:  Al, Anthony and Alex.
  • Molina caught one Hall of Famer, John Smoltz, in 2009.
  • Molina caught several non-pitchers who came in to help during blowouts: Aaron Miles, Felipe Lopez and Joe Mather.
  • Molina caught a future 101ESPN talk-show host (Brad Thompson).
  • If I had to pick an All-Molina five-man rotation, it would be: Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Matt Morris, and Carlos Martinez.
  • Second five: Lance Lynn, Jeff Suppan, Woody Williams, Kyle Lohse, Michael Wacha.
  • Third five: Shelby Miller, Jaime Garcia, Miles Mikolas, John Lackey, Jack Flaherty.
  • If I had to put together an “All Worst” rotation for the Molina years, it would be tough, but I know that rotation would start with Kip Wells and Mike Maroth. Let’s put Sidney Ponson, Brad Penny and Justin Masterson in there.
  • All-Molina eight-man bullpen: My two left-handers are Steve Kline and Kevin Siegrist (before Siegrist was diminished by injuries.) But you could talk me into Rick Ankiel or the Tyler Lyons of 2017. Heck, the Tyler Johnson of 2006 was pretty nasty during the postseason. OK, so with Kline and Siegrist set as the lefties,  we need to pick six right-handed relievers: (1) I’ll take the Alex Reyes of 2016; (2) need an effective offspeed guy with a funky delivery because I’ll have plenty of traditional fastball heat, so the pick for the change-of-pace RH is Pat Neshek; (3) cannot pass on Jordan Hicks; (4) closer extraordinaire Trevor Rosenthal; (5) closer extraordinaire Jason Motte; (6) all-time franchise saves leader Jason Isringhausen.

Finally, in addition to Molina’s franchise ranking on the list of most career games, he’s moved into a the top 10 or close to it, in a bunch of offensive categories.

I have to be honest; I some of these numbers surprised me.

 Molina is 10th in franchise history for career hits, 1,777. He has more than Ted Simmons, Willie McGee, Frankie Frisch, Johnny Mize, Pepper Martin, Matt Holliday … Molina is Molina is 10th with 816 RBIs, and has more than  Lou Brock, Frisch, Jim Edmonds, Red Schoendienst, Mize, and Chick Hafey … Molina is No. 15 with 137 homers; and with 22 more he’ll crack the Top 10. … Yadi is 9th with 341 doubles, eighth with 1,291 singles, and 12th with 485 extra-base hits …and with one more extra-base hit, Molina will tie Jim Edmonds for 11th place in Cards history …  Molina is 12th with 2,543 total bases, and No. 11 in team history for most times reaching base (2,297) … Yadi is down on the list at No. 26 for most for most runs scored (620), but he’s scored more runs for the Cardinals than  Vince Coleman. … Molina is 13th in franchise history with 36.7 Wins Above Replacement, but the metric never has, or will, do him justice.

Molina already is a classic Cardinal, one of the best to wear the Birds on the Bat. Appreciate him while he’s still here — and still very much a formidable presence. Because he can’t go on like this forever.

Well, at least I don’t think so.

But he is Yadier Molina.

Thanks for reading…

I enjoyed writing this for you…

–Bernie