When you think of the great players that have worn the Cardinals uniform, pitchers (Gibson, Dean, Tudor, Carpenter, Wainwright) quickly come to mind. Then you move on to Albert Pujols, Stan Musial and Rogers Hornsby and you may or may not associate them with the positions they played. Among all of the position players, catchers may be the most fruitful position in Cardinals history. Only the tough can play the position, and those that can surve the brutal St. Louis summers are the toughest. Names like Walker Cooper, Tim McCarver, Ted Simmons, Darrell Porter, and gold glove winners Tony Pena, Tom Pagnozzi, Mike Matheny and Yadier Molina read like a Who’s Who in Major League Baseball. Some were offensive contributors (Cooper, McCarver, Simmons), some were defensive specialists (Pena, Pagnozzi, Matheny, Molina), and some were just great clubhouse guys (Porter).
Of these great backstops, there is one that stands out from all of the others. It all happened at 7:18pm EDT on Tuesday, August 10, 2010 in Cincinnati. The catcher was Yadier Molina and in just seven seconds, he displayed the greatest example of leadership that I have seen in my 40+ years of watching Cardinals baseball.
Entering this game, the Cardinals had been the favorites to win the National League Central Division, and seemed to have a team that was well suited for a long run in the postseason. While they had been dominant at home, inconsistency on the road had plagued the Redbirds and they found themselves two games out of first place at the start of this pivotal three game series. On the other side of the field were the first place Cincinnati Reds. Former Cardinals General Manager, Walt Jocketty, had retooled the Reds into a legitimate contender for the division title and the they had been playing exceptional baseball all season long. This series would be an important test for both clubs.
That is until one player decided to make himself larger than the game. Reds second baseman, Brandon Phillips, told reporters that he didn’t particular care for the Cardinals. His exact comments and some of the Cardinals initial reactions are nicely documented in this Joe Strauss article in the Post Dispatch.
Unaware of Phillips’ comments, the Cardinals dominated the series opener behind a strong pitching performance from Chris Carpenter and a 7 run explosion in the 4th inning. It was after this game that the Cardinals had learned of what Phillips had said, and suddenly they had more to play for than just the division title. Lines had been drawn and this was no longer Cards and Reds – this was now Hatfields and McCoys.
With the Cardinals now just one game out of first place, the second game of this series took on even more significance. A win assures the Cardinals of a series win and being no more than one game out of first place at the end of the road trip. It also leaves open the possibility of a sweep and reclaiming the lead in the division. The problem ? The Cardinals starter for the night was Jaime Garcia. While he has enjoyed a spectacular rookie season, his last few starts have shown some vulnerability and perhaps the demands of the regular season are starting to fatigue his surgically repair arm – certainly a lot of pressure to put on a young man pitching deep into his rookie campaign.
The Cardinals jumped out to a quick lead in the top of the first off Reds starter Johnny Cueto. A leadoff double by Felipe Lopez, a sacrifice bunt from Jon Jay and an Albert Pujols single gave Garcia a 1-0 lead going into the home half of the first inning. What happens next is where the legend of Yadi the Enforcer is born. And it only took seven seconds.
Before looking at what actually happened, let’s try to put ourselves in Molina’s cleats and sort through all of the decisions and their consequences.
- While this is not a must win game, a victory swings the momentum in the Cardinals direction and places a ton of pressure on the Reds going into game 3. Conclusion: don’t do anything stupid to jeopardize the outcome of this game.
- In the old school ways of baseball policing baseball, the starting pitcher would be obligated to buzz his best fastball up and in to the player making the comments. Sadly, in the way that the game is currently played, that would result in the Cardinals starter being ejected and a long night for the bullpen. Conclusion: see above.
- The Cardinals have an inexperienced pitcher on the mound and he needs to be on his game if the Cardinals are going to win. Conclusion: whatever you do, keep it away from Jaime Garcia and let the young man concentrate on the task at hand. You are the veteran, draw the attention in your direction – you can handle it.
- The Cardinals have a solid backup catcher in Jason LaRue. Molina has been shouldering most of the load since the All Star Game break, and with a day game on Wednesday, LaRue would likely get the start. Except that the scheduled pitcher is Adam Wainwright and he is on pace for his first (should be second) Cy Young award. Conclusion: don’t do anything to mess with Wainwright’s success.
- After the day game tomorrow is an off day. It doesn’t take very long to get from Cincinnati to St. Louis. Conclusion: while tonight might seem like a good day to get thrown out of a game, play it smart because there’s an off day just around the corner. And don’t do anything to mess with Jaime Garcia.
- Something has to be done. The Cardinals have just taken a 1-0 lead against a pitcher that has had a very good season so far. Something had to be done that both united the Cardinals team and divided the Reds. Conclusion: tonight is a lovely night for some basebrawl.
- What would a hockey player do ? OK, I just threw that one in for my benefit – I doubt that thought actually crossed Molina’s mind. But it would so cool if it did.
So what did happen ? Molina went back into the equipment room and looked for the largest chip he could find to place on his shoulder. He then took his position behind home plate and waited patiently for Phillips to enter his space and knock the chip off. A tap of the bat to Molina’s shin guards was all that was needed and Molina stood up and confronted Phillips. Suddenly Molina seemed to be about a foot taller than the 5ft 11in listed in the media guide. He and Phillips exchanged words and then the benches emptied. For a complete and spectacular look at the event, check out this analysis from our friends at Viva El Birdos.
Cardinals fans and sports writers have complained that this version of the Cardinals lacked passion. Articles have been written about a fractured clubhouse with too many factions. If this team was going to make it to postseason, they would need some serious leadership. In seven seconds in Cincinnati, all of this came to an end. When the Cardinals rushed out onto the field, it wasn’t by clique. It was the entire team moving as a single group to make a single statement in a particular way. In contrast, the Reds seemed oddly fractured with several ex-Cardinals trying to play the role of peacemaker, spending more time on our side of the scrum than that of their teamates. In seven seconds, the Cardinals found that passion and it had a new target. And as the ruckus grew, it found a much larger target than just Phillips – it also included starter Johnny Cueto. And in seven seconds, the Cardinals found that leader in the man that started all of this. Yadier Molina channeling Dee Snyder and Twisted Sister, proudly proclaimed that “We’re not gonna take it….. any more”. And they didn’t.
And it got better. Much better. Once the umpires took control of the game and play resumed, it was Molina that had the big at bat, not Phillips. In the second inning, Molina was greeted by boos from the home town crowd. Those were quickly silenced as he hit a home run, his fifth on the season, and it gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead. Leadership on both sides of the game – I strongly approve. The 2 run lead was surrendered as the Reds made it a ballgame for a couple of innings. The Cardinals would get to Cueto again in the sixth, open the lead to 5-2 and extending it in the next inning to 8-4. Strong performances from Fernando Salas, Trever Miller, Kyle McClellan and Ryan Franklin out of the bullpen preserved the victory for Garcia and the Cardinals. Cueto would win the irony award as he takes the loss, but a blown save (BS) should have been awarded to Phillips for his comments about the Cardinals. The star of the game – is there any question here ? It was the big man of the moment, Yadier Molina.
History will show that the Cardinals completed the sweep behind another Cy Young Award worthy pitching performance from Adam Wainwright and reclaimed sole possession of first place in the NL Central. If the Cardinals do win the division, it may be those seven seconds in Cincinnati that tipped the balance and gave the Cardinals more to play for than just a spot in the postseason schedule. And for those seven seconds, we can thank Yadi the Enforcer.