MILWAUKEE – Yadier Molina may not have been an All-Star this season, snapping a seven-year run. He may not be quite as agile behind the plate at times now that he is 34. He doesn’t have the power many of his teammates have or that he once did.
But he has been a steady, not to mention steadying, producer for months now, one of the quiet pillars of the St. Louis Cardinals’ reliable offensive muscle. And Tuesday night, Molina’s 10th-inning double, the 300th of his career, fueled the winning rally in a 2-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. His drive to right-center field off hard-thrower Corey Knebel was his 30th double this season, the most on the team and his most in a season since 2013, the year of his highest finish in an MVP race.
Since the All-Star break, Molina is batting .345. He also still has a knack for guiding pitchers through turbulence. The Brewers had the winning run at third base with dangerous slugger Chris Carter at the plate in the ninth inning. Closer Seung Hwan Oh had the confidence on a 1-2 count to throw a slider in the dirt. Molina blocked it. If he hadn't, that 10th-inning moment would have never happened. Ryan Braun would have scored the winning run from third base.
Oh eventually struck Carter out on a 93 mph fastball.
The man Molina has played with longer than anyone else (aside from his two older brothers) thinks the catcher is motivated by people thinking he is past his prime.
“Every time one of the distinguished media members of this United States starts writing articles about how we’re over the hill and we’re in decline, it makes our dander get up a little bit,” Adam Wainwright said. “He’s wired like me.”
Wainwright ought to know. He is practically obsessed with proving his detractors wrong. After he held the Brewers to one run over seven innings Tuesday night, his 35th birthday, he tried to rub it in the face of one of his most persistent Twitter critics.
“The guy just dogged me on Twitter, just dogged me, some chump from Iowa,” Wainwright said. “I said, ‘I can’t wait to shut you up,’ and it didn’t go through to him because he’s not one of my followers. I’m still going to do it, though.”
Molina has caught more innings, played more games and had more at-bats than any major league catcher. Manager Mike Matheny deals with questions about how much he plays Molina when the catcher is struggling. Those were coming fast and furious in June and July. Now, not so much.
“He feels good physically now. Why would he at the end of August? It makes no sense,” Matheny said. “But he does, and it’s nice to continue getting him opportunities to make a difference for us.”
Tuesday was the third time Wainwright had pitched on his birthday. He turned 25 with two scoreless innings of relief against the Miami Marlins and 28 with six strong innings against the Washington Nationals in a 2-1 Cardinals win. This time, he did so with purpose, intent on proving he’s not in decline despite a rough August. He changed practically everything between starts, from his facial hair, to his between-starts workouts, to how he wore his pants, to aspects of his mechanics. He even switched from strawberry to grape for his pregame peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich. He wasn’t messing around.
“Tonight, going into the game, I tried to forget about everything that’s gone on this year,” Wainwright said. “I watched only ’13 and ’14 film of me. I wanted to remember that guy. Not this other fellow who’s been pitching this year. I’m retiring that guy and bringing back the other fellow to appease the Twitter followers out there who wanted me retired.”
For the first five innings, Wainwright mystified the strikeout-prone Brewers, much as Carlos Martinez had done the night before. The task got harder in the sixth inning. After Jedd Gyorko gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead with his 17th home run since the All-Star break, Milwaukee led off with two straight doubles, the second of which scored Keon Broxton to tie it.
Wainwright made a poor decision and tried to throw out Peralta at second base on Jonathan Villar’s bunt, leading to runners on first and second with one out. After getting another out, he had a 10-pitch battle with Braun. The game hung in the balance and Wainwright threw a full-count curveball that Braun pounded into the ground for a harmless groundout.
“That was strength on strength,” Matheny said. “It was fun to watch.”
The Cardinals seem to have this push-pull in their identity right now. Many days, the bulk of their highlights are coming from their youngest players. Tuesday was a good night for the old guys, though they might quibble with the characterization.