ST. LOUIS - In the world of sports, Father Time always wins. Eventually, an athlete won't be able to produce at the level he has for the duration of his career, thus being pushed out by a younger player.
It's happened time and time again to the greatest players of our generation. This summer, though, 35-year-old St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is not allowing it to happen to him just yet.
Ever since Molina won his first gold glove and hit .300 back in 2008, fans have expected it to repeat every spring-and Molina mostly answered the call, winning eight consecutive gold gloves and hitting near .300 collectively over the past ten years. Last year, though, Molina didn't win the Gold Glove, but he still hit .307 at the plate and sprayed 38 doubles in 147 games, the most he had played in since the 2009 season.
Photos: Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina
A player sets a precedent and a fan base responds by taking him for granted. But the minute the player starts to regress, fans begin to doubt his ability. That's the way it goes every single time. However, something else may have sparked Molina's play.
This past July, a series of Instagram posts lit a fire between manager Mike Matheny and Molina, when the latter took to the social media website to express his dissatisfaction with a comment made by the manager. Matheny implied that his catcher was tired, and Molina took it like a knife in the back. Molina was feeling pushed out-and responded with fire.
Since the outburst of words, Molina has backed them up with action on the field. Since August 1, Molina has a slash line of .302/.358/.548 with seven home runs and 22 RBI. He's also thrown out 35 percent of prospective base stealers. He's also picked off six baserunners this season, which doubles the amount he caught in 2015 and 2016 combined.
This sudden burst in production has also silenced the Carson Kelly supporters. Ever since the 23-year-old catcher arrived in Chicago on July 21, fans have expected him to hold a time share behind the plate with Molina. This was based off the premise that Molina has slowing down (he wasn't) and Kelly deserved a chance to collect some experience.
Then, the Cards stayed quiet at the trade deadline and stated they had the full intent of catching the Cubs, giving off the notion that the best man would play. Molina is loudly proclaiming that he is the best man behind the plate for the Cardinals.
I can't stand prospect cultivation by fans. Since Kelly is young and the top rated catching prospect in baseball, he should be playing ahead of a Hall of Fame caliber player. Wrong. He's a promising young talent that has no business starting right now over Molina. If the Cardinals are serious about winning this year and in 2018 even, Molina is the guy. Honestly, Kelly was a guy with a for sale sign placed on his shoulder the second Molina agreed to a three-year extension worth $60 million.
Let's throw some cold water on the Kelly enthusiasm. The kid hasn't shown much at the plate, hitting .179 in 39 at bats with two extra base hits, but he hasn't gotten the proper shot yet. That time hasn't arrived yet and for good reason. It's still Yadier's time and team.
When the Molina extension was signed, some questioned the reliability of Molina going forward, like his 2017 offensive performance was a fluke or something. The reality was that the team was committing to one man for the next three seasons. There never was a doubt who the guy was going to be. Molina is simply making that commitment stand tall at the moment. The face of the franchise remaining its best overall player.
On Saturday night, Molina hit a two-run home run to even the score against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He threw a runner out trying to steal. Sunday, Molina hit a three-run homer, adding an RBI single and sacrifice fly to seal an 7-0 win, along with helping Michael Wacha pitch a gem.
Molina is still doing all the things we've come to expect from him 14 years into his career. He's throwing baserunners out, collecting big hits, and leading this team towards another improbable playoff run. It's the same old story with a fresh coat of red paint over it. Every time his reliability is questioned, Molina finds a way to remind all around him that he's still got it.
When he lost weight two years ago and people thought it would affect his ability to drive the ball, he responded with the barrage of extra base hits the next two seasons.
When fans and scribes (myself included) constantly griped about his placement in the middle of the lineup, Molina begins play tomorrow night with a sprinter's chance of matching his career high 22 home run total. The man has 17 home runs and 72 RBI to go with 23 doubles. As a wise man once said, it's all on the page if you want to find it.
When Molina's amount of playing time was questioned and debated, he's responded with a new showcase of durability.
It's a series of reminders from Molina to the doubters who he is and what he is capable of.
The Cardinals have used Molina's fire to get back into the race. Since August 1, the Cards are 23-15 and sitting within three games of both the division lead and the second wildcard spot. They needed their leader to step up his play and Molina has responded by pushing back against Father Time.
It's the same adage that is applied to any baseball player once they hit 35 years of age. A doubt that starts to grow like a weed out of a plain of green grass on a baseball field. The urge to expect less. Players eventually decline and stop producing at a level once promised. Molina is resisting the urge to follow along, and the Cards are benefiting from it.
It's true. All of it. Yadier Molina isn't what he once was, but he's still one of a kind and proving people wrong.
I don't know where the 2017 season is going for the Cardinals, but I can rest assured of one thing: Yadier Molina isn't done yet, and the Cardinals are better for it.
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