“He has ice in his veins,” teammate Dexter Fowler said.
On Monday, with his team facing elimination from the MLB playoffs, Molina’s legend added another chapter. Or make that two.
First, he tied Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves in the bottom of the eighth with a “muscle” hit to right field. It barely got over first baseman Freddie Freeman‘s glove, but brought home Paul Goldschmidt to make it a 4-4 game. Then, with Kolten Wong standing on third base and Marcell Ozuna at first, with one out in the 10th inning, Molina hit a sacrifice fly to left deep enough for Wong to score easily. And just like that, we’ll have a winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday in Atlanta.
Both key moments came on the first pitch of the at-bat.
“I’ve been doing that for 60 years,” the 37-year-old Molina joked after the thrilling win. “I’m trying to get it done right away. As a catcher, I know the pitcher is trying to get ahead in the count. I’m just trying to be aggressive.”
The Braves may want to take note of that aggressive style because when his team needs him to come through in a tight game, Molina loves to jump on that first pitch. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he has the most hits (12) on the first pitch, in the eighth inning or later, when his team trails by exactly one run over the last decade. Yes, that’s a mouthful, but it’s yet another illustration of how clutch Molina really is.
His teammates had absolutely no doubt he would get the ball in the air in the 10th inning, staying away from a double play grounder while bringing Wong home.
“Some guys thrive in the big moment under pressure,” Matt Carpenter said. “Yadi is as good as anyone I’ve ever seen at that. There’s no question when that situation came up in the 10th, he was going to get it done somehow, whether it be walk, hit, homer or sac fly.”
And more than one Cardinals teammate made sure to point out this was no accident. Molina works at his craft.
“He’s working on it in the cage,” Goldschmidt said. “He works on moving the runner, works on getting the ball in the air, works on hit and run, any situation, he’s always working on different situations.”
Just how precise is Molina with those little things, the things that many in the game don’t bother with? Cardinals manager Mike Shildt tells a story of a time this season when he called for a hit-and-run with Molina batting, men on first and third and less than two outs.
“Similar to tonight,” Shildt said. “Big-time ground ball guy [on the mound]. And the runner at first missed the sign. So he doesn’t run. So Yadi, as the ball’s coming, recognizes that the guy [isn’t running] — and he starts to kind of make sure he’s getting on top [of the ball]. Guy doesn’t run. Mid-flight, [Molina] changes his approach and hits a fly ball in the middle of the pitch. It takes four-hundredths of a second to get home, and that was the game.
“After the game, I was, like, ‘did you really change your swing?’ He goes, ‘yeah, the guy wasn’t running so I need to get a ball in the air for a sac fly.’ He’s a pretty amazing individual.”
Just ask Cardinals fans how amazing. Their only question would not be if a statue of Molina should be built outside of Busch Stadium, but where it should go. There’s a love affair between him and the city that added another layer after his Game 4 heroics.
“He’s a special player and it seems like the moments just find him,” Carpenter said. “Part of that is his ability to come through in big moments. It just adds to an amazing career.”
Molina plays it calm and cool in the batter’s box, but no one would say he’s without emotion. As he reached first base in the 10th and realized the ball was deep enough to score Wong, he chucked his bat into right field in what must be the farthest bat flip ever. Then the mob scene began.
“In that moment you can’t control yourself,” Molina said of the bat toss.
Molina also made a throat-slash gesture during his celebration.
Of his on-field leader again delivering when his team needed it most, Shildt said, “It’s what this guy lives for, you know? This is exactly what Yadier Molina lives for. This is what he trains for.”
That sounds like a cliché but when you consider, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Molina is the third player in postseason history with a game-tying and game-winning RBI in two separate plate appearance in the eighth inning or later for a team facing elimination, it seems he was meant for these moments.
“You have to keep calm and concentrate,” Molina said. “I like those moments. I don’t know what it is, but my concentration level is up there.”
Fowler was asked why Molina is so tuned in during these situations, as illustrated by his tendency to jump on the first pitch.
“He’s a catcher,” Fowler said. “He knows what’s happening.”
“I don’t know, but he does,” Fowler said with a smile.
The Braves know it too. But of course they’ve known it for years. Everyone has. Some guys are just too good.
“This guy’s a Hall of Famer,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “And he hits to the situation, stays within himself, doesn’t try to do too much. Take all the clichés. Everything. That’s him.
“I mean, he’s a ballplayer. He plays the game in front of him probably about as good as anybody in the game.”
Does Molina have one more special moment in him? Or will the Braves find a hero come Wednesday? If it comes down to the longtime Cardinals catcher with the game on the line again, his team will probably be punching their ticket to the NL Championship Series. That’s what they believe at least.
“I want him to be there,” Jose Martinez said. “Everyone can do his part, but in that situation, he’s the right guy.”