Cardinals refuse to let soggy weather ruin Opening Day in St. Louis
ST. LOUIS — The Clydesdales were canceled, the red-suited Hall of Famers had to pull out their umbrellas during introductions and the rooftop seats at new Ballpark Village went mostly unused.
It was that kind of cold and rainy Monday afternoon for the Cardinals’ home opener.
But the Cardinals weren’t complaining.
Winning has a way of overshadowing the elements. The Cardinals not only beat the Cincinnati Reds, 5-3, to end a three-year skid of losing home openers; they did so with a sharper performance than any on their opening 3-3 trip to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
All they needed to get right was the first inning — and two big plays. The first was turned in by the second baseman playing in his first home opener, the other by the magnificent, old catcher who was — how time flies — starting his 10th home opener for the Cardinals.
In the top of the first, rookie Kolten Wong stopped a Reds rally before it really started. Speedy Billy Hamilton had led off with what looked like a routine single to right until he dashed around first and easily turned it into a double. After he took third on a sacrifice, the Reds brought up their best hitter, Joey Votto, and appeared to be in prime position to finally score a run off Michael Wacha.
Votto smashed a grounder to second that Wong gobbled up and immediately started running at Hamilton, who was heading for home until he saw he had no chance. Caught in no-man’s land, Hamilton stayed in a rundown for only three throws before Wong tagged him out. There would be no run, or early momentum, for the visitors.
"That was me reacting," Wong said.
The Cardinals promptly put their first three batters on in the bottom of the inning to bring up Allen Craig, the game’s best hitter with runners in scoring position. But when Craig whiffed on a 94-mph fastball, Reds starter Tony Cingrani was just a double play away from escaping the inning. Coming up was Molina, who has grounded into his share of 6-4-3s in his career.
Not this time. Molina fell behind in the count 1-2 but then smoked a 94-mph fastball to the left-field fence that cleared the bases. The Cardinals went up 3-0, and they stayed in front all afternoon.
"Very fitting for Yadi to be the guy to get us going right there," manager Mike Matheny said of his All-Star, Gold Glove winner and, as usual, loudest-cheered Cardinal in pregame festivities. "We had a huge momentum shift getting Hamilton off third base, and it could have been just as effective the opposite way if we don’t get a run in, let alone Yadi coming up with a big hit to get three in. It’s the kind of play he makes for us."
Molina typically shrugged off his heroics as just doing his job. On this day, that also included guiding Wacha through six adventuresome innings that included the Reds finally reaching him for a run. It was their first off Wacha in 21 innings covering four outings dating to last season. Molina didn’t need to do much coaxing of Carlos Martinez during his five-out outing, but closer Trevor Rosenthal needed some settling down in the ninth.
Rosenthal allowed the first four Reds he faced to reach on a pair of walks and two singles before he calmed down and retired the next three, one on a sacrifice fly.
"He was amped up, pulling across (his body) a little bit, jumping out more than he normally does," said Matheny, adding that he wanted to use Rosenthal even though it was a non-save situation. "He’d only thrown 12 pitches over the past four days, so we had him out there regardless."
Molina was decidedly not amped up, of course. After all these home openers, he’s used to all the hoopla that includes the parade around the park of the red-suited Hall of Famers, who added a new member this year with Tony La Russa’s election to Cooperstown. Might Molina join the club one day?
"I try not talking about that," he said, humbly adding, "I would like that someday."
Rain or shine, he is well on his way.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.