Molina’s veteran catching genius was on display in the fifth inning when he purposefully called for a pitchout that he used to gun down Joc Pederson to get the Cardinals and starting pitcher Dakota Hudson out of a two-on, two-out jam. That play, combined with Molina’s two hits that pushed him past Mike Piazza for sixth all-time on the hits list for catchers, made this one of the biggest games of the season for the 39-year-old catcher so far.
Another big moment came later. Ryan Helsley showed again why he’s evolved into one of the most dominant relief pitchers in baseball. Helsley, who came in as the owner of the fastest pitch in MLB this season (103.1 mph), used the four-seamer to get Brandon Belt to ground into an inning-ending double play and out of a bases-loaded jam. In addition to having struck out 21 of the 35 hitters, he has allowed just one hit in nine appearances.
Add it up, and it provided the Cardinals with one of their finest start-to-finish performances of the season. Sprinkle in Gold Glover Tommy Edman’s two stellar defensive plays and his fifth-inning home run and the Cardinals won for just the second time in the past seven games.
Also, they notched their sixth shutout.
“If we’re going to go through this stretch where we’ve talked about our offense quite a bit, we’re going to have to win ballgames the way we did,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “We pitch well, we play good defense, make good decisions and score three or four runs. There will be a stretch where we will score runs, but you still have to win when you aren’t feeling great.”
Hudson improved to 14-3 in his career at Busch Stadium.
He marveled at the prowess of Molina to call for the up-and-away pitch that allowed him to easily throw out Pederson and end the Giants’ first-and-third threat.
“The Giants like to be aggressive on the bases, and I was ready,” said Molina, who scored the Cardinals’ first run of the day after doubling off the wall. “We executed that play well, and I’m happy about it. That was one of the turning points. I know the Giants like to do that but I was ready for it.”
Said Hudson of Molina’s awareness: “You could see him looking over [toward the Giants dugout], and that’s just part of his genius. He called a great game, the guy rakes, and that’s another part of his game you have to enjoy as a baseball fan.”
The Cardinals have enjoyed calling Helsley’s number out of the bullpen. Much improved after having surgery in the offseason to repair a balky left knee, Helsley has become the club’s primary setup man to get the ball to closer Giovanny Gallegos. An owner of three of the fastest strikeout pitches of the season, Helsley was brought in in the seventh to hopefully get a strikeout with the bases loaded. Instead, Helsley used a tailing fastball after falling behind 3-1 in the count to get Belt to ground to shortstop Edmundo Sosa for an inning-ending double play.
“I just wanted to challenge [Belt] because I believe in my stuff,” Helsley said. “I wanted to make him beat me and not beat myself. I fell behind 3-1 and I wanted to challenge him with the heater. Thankfully, he hit it right at Sosa. That was huge to get some weak contact and get the double play.”
An inning later, Helsley proved himself mortal when he walked Austin Slater on four pitches. His first walk of the season ended the hard-throwing right-hander’s personal streak of 22 straight hitters retired. Ultimately, Helsley’s 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief helped the Cardinals stymie a Giants offense that had scored 49 runs in their six-game winning streak.
“For the most part, I’m just trying to go at guys with my best stuff and get them on their heels,” Helsley said. “It helped today that the ball was down and [Belt] was a little late. I don’t get too many ground balls, but I’m thankful for the one I got today because it was big for us.”