ST. LOUIS — It's easy to run out of words to describe the greatness of Yadier Molina.
Amazing. Legend. The Greatest. Resilient. Tough. Leader. Dynamic. Excellent. Smart.
If you think it, the suit probably fits.
The St. Louis Cardinals' catcher has done so many amazing things over the course of a 16 year career that he could fill two greatest hits albums if this was a body of music being looked at.
Against the rigors of Father Time, Molina remains strong at the game of baseball, which his mentor, Mike Matheny, once called a hard game to play. When I think of Molina, it's hard not to think about a scene in The Dark Knight where Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne asks Michael Caine's Alfred what he should do about the Joker. Alfred's response to Wayne: "Endure, Master Wayne."
Maybe Molina is Batman, because he has endured. Just take a look at Monday's heroics.
Molina didn't save the Cardinals once, but twice in pulling them back from the brink of defeat. With the team down 4-3, Molina flipped an RBI single just over the outstretched glove of Freddie Freeman to score Paul Goldschmidt in the eighth inning. At his best, Molina makes it look easy, taking a pitcher's specialty offering and doing whatever he wants with it.
In the tenth inning, with the game tied at four and a long game knocking on the door, Molina must have realized he missed brunch, and hit a sacrifice fly to left field to score Kolten Wong and seal the fate for a Game 5 on Wednesday in Atlanta. Less than an hour after the team clung to life, Molina walked it off.
Welcome to another episode of the Yadi Effect.
Both plays came on the first pitch Molina saw in the at-bat. He's notorious for swinging at the first pitch, especially in a potential rally. And I get it. How often do pitchers try to sneak a fastball by a hitter and get ahead in the count, especially during a tough situation? The answer is more often than you think. Once again, he's smarter than most players. He goes to the plate with intent.
That doesn't mean he can't have some fun. After the single to tie the game, Molina watched the replay and smiled, knowing how close Freeman came to catching it and potentially hammering a nail into the Cardinals' coffin. The great ones can enjoy the moment.
That doesn't mean he's not the most ruthless player in the league. A day after Braves' centerfielder, Ronald Acuna Jr., did a throat-slashing gesture after the final out, Molina returned the favor as he walked off the field, putting his thumb to his throat and dragging it across. One could say he was merely telling the Braves what just happened, Ricky Bobby style. Or he could be telling them what's waiting for them in Atlanta tomorrow: Jack Flaherty. After all, the young Cardinals' phenom pitcher was one of the first people to Molina in the field after the win.
Thank you, Yadi. A 37-year-old who plays like there's a tomorrow, but knows full well that today is going to be fun. It's hard to quantify a catcher's value, but Molina defies that notion. Ask anyone in the league how important he is, and they'll gasp and search for those elusive words that seemingly never run out.
Some people don't even notice the little things with Molina. They still miss them. Whenever Carlos Martinez has trouble out there, Molina is there is coax a few more great pitches out of him. When another young arm needs guidance, he's there, with a stiff arm on the shoulder or a pointed glare. He's always there making an impact.
Molina is the kind of player who can make a dent even during a series where he hasn't been that sharp. The RBI single was only Molina's third hit of the series, but in his usual fashion, it was more meaningful than most singles. After the game, Braves' fans kept reminding me that Acuna Jr. is a far better player than Molina. That's funny, because I don't see nine Gold Gloves, nine All Star appearances, two World Series titles, and revered credentials on the young man's Baseball Reference page. In defeat, some people can be reckless, or careless.
It's the by-product of seeing a win snatched away from your team. That's all Molina did. Two key moments on two pitches. A flare into right and a fly into left. Easy going. I mean, the guy doesn't like to run, so a simple lofty hit to the sky in left would do. Why waste energy?
After all, Molina has caught 16,430.2 innings in the regular season, playing in 2,076 games total (including the playoffs) in his career. He's out there every day, and while his need to hustle on every single grounder may not be there, his passion and endurance definitely is.
If anyone's beating Father Time, it's Molina, the guy who collected double-digit home runs and possibly his tenth Gold Glove this year.
It's all he has done for years in St. Louis, both on and off the field. Molina's collected so many greatest hits moments in Cardinal red, that it's hard to group them all into a room. You can think about the big home run in 2006 against the Mets. The eleven hits against the Giants in 2012 in the NLCS. Maybe Molina can't wait to get back to the World Series, where he's hit .319 in his career.
When it comes to Molina, the hunger for more glory is what I see. A guy who may play past his current contract, which expires after the 2020 season. He told the media he would hang up the cleats, and maybe if Adam Wainwright departs after another round next year, his battery mate will follow him. Or, Molina could keep on playing. In his 15 full seasons, he's never failed to play in less than 110 games in a season.
He endures, unlike most 37-year-old players. Molina is still capable of a big moment, sometimes even two inside a single playoff game within an hour of each other.
Wednesday could feature more Molina heroics, and it wouldn't even have to come with the bat. It may come in his ability to guide Flaherty to another great start, or in a moment late in the game with a reliever. He may flip a few more hits into the outfield, or plant one into the seats in Atlanta.
With Molina, anything is possible. Smiles, passion, and fire are guaranteed.
Just watch the Monday highlights. Look at the eyes. Stare into them. Pause, replay, and watch it again.
It's intoxicating. Hard to turn away from. The Yadi Effect.