Yadier Molina continues to defy Father Time, and Thursday’s 5-4 extra-innings win over the D-backs in the series opener at Chase Field was no exception.
Lacing a go-ahead RBI double down the left-field line, Molina ensured that the D-backs’ late rally would be for naught as the Cardinals improved to 28-22, holding a half-game lead over the Cubs in the National League Central.
“He's Ironman back there,” Tyler O’Neill said. “You know he's a walking legend. … He comes up in big situations like that [and] is able to get the job done time and time again. So, something to look up to.”
Molina finished the night 3-for-5, but it was his work behind the plate that proved to be just as impactful.
For six innings, he helped guide starting pitcher Carlos Martínez through a potential no-hit bid, and when the D-backs ended the no-hitter in the seventh and managed to load the bases with nobody out, Molina and reliever Ryan Helsley worked through the jam to keep the lead intact.
“Yadi played really, really well tonight,” manager Mike Shildt said. “And he made some really amazing blocks a couple different times. … He was tremendous tonight on both sides of the ball.”
Molina, who signed a one-year, $9 million contract in the offseason to return to the Cardinals for an 18th season, is slashing .301/.333/.886 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs.
The Cardinals jumped to an early 4-0 advantage behind O’Neill’s two-run home run in the second inning on the second pitch he saw in his return from the injured list, and RBIs from Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado.
Martínez kept the D-backs at bay as he chased the first Cardinals’ no-hitter in 20 years, striking out six batters in his six hitless innings.
But things quickly unraveled for Martínez in the seventh. A leadoff single by Ketel Marte ended the no-hit bid, and Eduardo Escobar followed that up with a single of his own. A David Peralta double ruled dead by fan interference plated one run and knocked Martínez out of the game at 86 pitches, 55 strikes.
Genesis Cabrera allowed another two runs to score on a Pavin Smith double before leaving with the bases loaded. Shildt summoned Helsley from the bullpen, and the righty worked out of the jam on exactly 10 pitches and two strikeouts.
“It was huge by Helsley,” Shildt said. “[He] pulled a Houdini. … Went into attack mode, bases loaded and kept it right there.”
Helsley said simplifying the situation was a key reason he escaped.
“One pitch at a time,” Helsely said. “You can't let the inning get too big, can't think ahead. You just have to keep it one pitch at a time right there and try to minimize damage.”
He also pointed toward Molina’s veteran leadership in helping make the job easier.
“It was huge,” Helsley added. “He's been on the biggest stage possible for this game, and to have him back there to guide us as starters and the bullpen helps make our jobs a lot easier.”
The D-backs tied the game in the eighth off reliever Giovanny Gallegos, but the Cardinals’ bullpen was able to force extra innings, and Daniel Ponce de Leon earned his first save of the season after Molina drove in the go-ahead run.
Martínez, who one month ago told reporters that a “tsunami is coming again,” finished his night charged with three runs.
It was one of his better outings this season, as he recorded seven ground-ball outs.
“I feel good,” Martínez said. “I trust in myself, 100 percent. I’m here, and I’m trying to help the team and help myself. Right now, I feel good with all of my pitches.”
And just like his teammates and manager, he had high praise for Molina.
“We trust in Yadi. … We know he can help the team when he’s hitting and behind home plate, too.
“Yadi is the best catcher [I’ve] seen in baseball.”