One at-bat, Yadier Molina made the 26,027 at Busch Stadium think he homered before cheers turned to groans. The next at-bat, the cheers were around to stay -- and lingered into a curtain call.
It was that second at-bat -- a hanging slider from Cubs right-hander Adbert Alzolay sent 397 feet inside the left-field foul pole -- that proved the difference for a 2-1 pick-me-up Cardinals win over Chicago after a deflating loss in Friday’s series opener -- and an inauspicious start to Saturday, at that.
“I thought that ball was going to be a double or something,” Molina said of the fourth-inning flyout in his second at-bat. “But I liked the third one.”
It came on a night where little else went right, or at least seemed primed not to: The Cardinals lost starter Miles Mikolas -- making his first start since 2019 -- with a right forearm injury after the fourth, needing a lengthy night from a bullpen already taxed, and the bats were held abated by Alzolay for most of seven innings.
No matter. The margins went St. Louis’ way, victorious over its fiercest rival for the first time this season.
“Really, the word is grit,” said manager Mike Shildt.
And like many wins over Chicago this millennium, it was Molina who provided the offensive punch. Entering the day with a .295 average against the Cubs, his seventh-inning homer was the 18th of his career and 110th RBI against his longtime foe -- the third- and second-most marks, respectively, he has against any franchise.
“It's exciting to see these rivalries can follow for many years,” Molina said. “It's fun to have those fans back to have fun with them. I mean, this is just great.”
If anything, Saturday was a pick-me-up for Molina as much as it was the Cardinals. He owned just six hits over his last 31 at-bats entering the day, dropping his batting average from .329 to .288 and his OPS from pushing 1.000 to falling under .900.
But there were more heroics for the fullest Busch Stadium since 2019.
One was Daniel Ponce de Leon, who came on in emergency relief in place of Mikolas and pitched on back-to-back nights after starting the season in the rotation. His outing not just provided a steady hand after a chaotic sequence with Mikolas’ exit, but it allowed the Cardinals’ high-leverage arms -- Génesis Cabrera, Giovanny Gallegos and Alex Reyes -- to pitch in tandem without overextending.
For Reyes specifically, it allowed him a deeper pitch count, needed after a bizarre ball hit by Nico Hoerner up the third-base line was called fair.
But for Ponce de Leon, who warmed up cold on the main mound for the second time he remembers doing so, the right-hander deliberately took his time. The last occurrence -- a July 2018 game against the Rockies, coming in relief of an injured Carlos Martínez -- Ponce de Leon gave up a grand slam to current teammate Nolan Arenado as the second batter he faced.
Now he seems to be inching his way up the Cards’ bullpen depth chart.
“I'm just trying to get innings,” Ponce de Leon said. “I feel good, I feel like I can pitch good, so I just need the opportunities.”
Heroics came in the form of Edmundo Sosa and Lane Thomas, both getting starting nods due to the absence of regulars. Sosa, on a tear since replacing Paul DeJong, raced around to extend what appeared to be a double into a triple in the fifth inning.
Thomas, a late addition to the lineup after Dylan Carlson (back) was scratched, singled him home for his first RBI of the year, after the Cubs nicked Mikolas for a first-inning run.
Call it an opening act for The Yadi Show.
“We have a really good group, we care about winning and we want to give everything we can,” Molina said. “We have some guys down right now … [but other guys] do the work and they are ready to play. That’s what this team does, for many years. The players that come, they are ready to win, and we proved that tonight.”