Busch Stadium’s high-definition video board rolled highlights of Cardinals history before the 2019 version of St. Louis’ franchise took the field for Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Monday. Featured prominently in the clips are two of the biggest playoff stars the franchise has fielded: Catcher Yadier Molina and pitcher Adam Wainwright.
There they were on film, jumping into each other’s arms after securing the final out of the 2006 World Series and clinching their first championship together. The battery added another ring in 2011.
Soon that montage should be updated with the Molina’s latest clutch October moment: Molina launching his bat into right field and being chased into the outfield grass by teammates after lofting a 10th-inning sacrifice fly ball just deep enough to knock in the Cardinals’ winning run in a 5-4 walkoff victory over the Atlanta Braves in Monday’s elimination game.
The season-saving drive, which occurred shortly after last-minute postseason roster addition Julio Teheran gave up a leadoff double to Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong and put runners on the corners with one out, forced the teams to pack for a finale that will be played Wednesday at Atlanta’s SunTrust Park.
The raucous crowd erupted in acknowledgment of Molina, who made an exuberant slashing motion at his throat as he headed toward the dugout.
“This is exactly what Yadier Molina lives for,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “Clearly he’s going to have a lot of personal accomplishments, rightfully so. … Yadier Molina is about winning — and winning championships, period.”
Molina, 37, has been major league catcher for 16 years. He has played on the October stage 10 times. The stadium-wide Yadi! Yadi! Yadi! chant that followed him to the plate and off the field in the 10th inning has been screamed in this town since his debut in 2004.
Molina has been a bastion of consistency. He has only hit below .260 twice, and never since 2006. He has appeared in 124 games per season on average. He has upheld his defensive standards, too.
The postseason, during which the catcher has hit .281, is Molina’s playground. It likely is only a matter of time before his statue is erected outside the ballpark alongside other Cardinals greats.
“When his career is over and said and done, you’ve gotta look past just the standard baseball card numbers and realize how many winning teams he was on, how big of a role he played in some of the postseason moments,” longtime teammate Matt Carpenter, who debuted in 2011, said of Molina’s potential Hall of Fame credentials. “The things that he’s done for this organization — you look at the run of playoff appearances and he’s right in the middle of it. I think all that stuff factors into it.”
Atlanta had a 4-3 lead until Molina shot a single off the glove of leaping 6-foot-5 first baseman Freddie Freeman in the eighth inning to score Paul Goldschmidt.
For the Braves, Ozzie Albies homered in the fifth and drove in three runs and Ronald Acuna Jr. had four hits.
But Molina erased the efforts of the Braves’ young stars with a throwback. His tying hit came on closer Shane Greene’s first pitch. He breathed new life into a Cardinals team that hadn’t scored since Marcell Ozuna hit his second of two solo home runs off Braves starter Dallas Keuchel in the fourth.
Molina’s heroics buoyed the team’s spirits after Sunday’s heartbreaking Game 4 loss in which Wainwright allowed no runs over a masterful 7 2/3 innings.
“He’s been here, he’s been doing this for a lot of years,” Ozuna said. “He knows how you play in the postseason. He knows every situation.”
No one in Cardinals history has more postseason hits than Molina. His 93 comfortably outpace fellow Cardinals legends Albert Pujols (88) and Jim Edmonds (61). No Cardinals player has appeared in more playoff games than Molina’s 93.
That experience manifested itself throughout the afternoon.
Molina was sure-handed in his guidance of the Cardinals bullpen over 5 1/3 scoreless, maneuvering the relievers from his spot behind the plate through bases-loaded jams in the sixth and seventh. The pitchers combined to allow seven baserunners after starter Dakota Hudson’s departure, but they stranded them all, including leaving Acuna Jr. at third base in the ninth inning.
And Molina was confident in his approach in the waning moments. The contact-first hitter didn’t need to slug an extra-base hit to pull the Cardinals even. He didn’t need his 94th playoff hit to drive in the winning run and stave off elimination.
He only needed a deep fly ball.
“I don’t know what it is,” Molina said of back-against-the-wall moments, “but my concentration level is up there. I just like those.”