Yadier Molina: simply the best in the business
ST. LOUIS — Yadier Molina didn't say much.
It was just past 10 on Sunday morning, hours before St. Louis Cardinals fans would shower their catcher with a standing ovation as he accepted his fifth consecutive Gold Glove and second consecutive Platinum Glove.
"It makes me feel good," Molina said of the awards he would receive at home plate then add to the collection in his home office. "It makes me proud. That's what you work for. You want to be the best at your position."
Molina won't brag on himself much more than that. To hear why — and how — he is the best, you have to ask his teammates, or Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. Or, better yet, walk down a hallway and visit the clubhouse used by his opponents.
Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy mentioned the arm.
Molina, a four-time All-Star, threw out 48 percent of the base runners who tried to catch him sleeping last year. Headed into Sunday's game — the 12th of this young season — he had already cut down two.
"It's tough, because he will throw out your best guys," Lucroy said. "It's a game-changer for a team that likes to run, which is us. It's something you really have to pick your spots and make sure you can get there. Because if you give him a a shot, he will make a good throw on you."
Rickie Weeks, who stole 16 bases last season, spoke of the presence.
"Usually, when you get on base, you have to worry about the pitcher trying to slide step and stuff like that," he said. "You are trying to get a good pitch to jump on. When you have Yadi back there, you're worrying about two people instead of one."
Molina gets in the head of base runners. He shortens their leads and guns those down who stray too far — sometimes from his knees. Weeks believes he's the toughest catcher to steal from.
"I would probably play so, yeah," Weeks said. "Just because of his aptitude, his cerebral ability behind the plate. He knows what he has to do to get guys out, including calling the right pitch to make that happen. There's a lot that goes on for a catcher, and he does a good job of bottling all that stuff up at once."
Pitcher Kyle Lohse, a former teammate of Molina's, elaborated on the unnoticed.
Perhaps Molina's biggest strength, Lohse said, is the ability to direct a game by calling pitches. He knows which pitch is best, when to throw it and where.
"He's in there early every day watching film, just like the pitchers are," Lohse said. "He takes a lot of pride in calling a good game. And I think he takes it worse if he feels like he made a mistake behind the plate calling the game rather than if he went 0-for-4."
Lohse would know. The right-hander spent fives seasons with St. Louis before signing with the Brewers.
"With him catching me, I never had to worry," Lohse said. "It's never like he was back there guessing. He gets to know his pitchers. He got to know me, what I like to do, my strengths and weaknesses. When I got into trouble, what do we need to do to get me out of it? Those are the things he not only has to remember for one guy, but a whole staff. The ability to do that is pretty amazing."
And finally, surrounded by reporters, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke praised the bat.
If there was ever a piece missing in Molina's game, it was at the plate instead of behind it. Not anymore. He finished the last two seasons with a batting average above .300. In 2012, he reached career-highs in hits (159), RBIs (76) and home runs (22). Twice this season, he's homered. Roenicke figured this would come.
"Bengie was really, really good," Roenicke said of the oldest of three Molina brothers who have all been professional catchers. "He [Bengie Molina] called a great game. He threw great, blocked great, and he could flat-out hit. It doesn't surprise me that Yadi could turn into this offensive player."
"Their family, they just have great hand-eye coordination," Roenicke continued. "They're just talented with the bat. They can stay inside the ball and hit it hard the other way. And they're smart enough to know when they need to turn on the ball. They do it all."
A reporter in the scrum countered with a story.
"Some scout told me that the fourth [Molina] child was a girl, and that she probably would have been a better catcher than most major league catchers," he said.
"I don't doubt that," Roenicke answered with a smile. "He [Yadier Molina] is a special guy you can build a team around."