ST. LOUIS -- On a night when his longevity earned him a special spot in Major League history, Yadier Molina offered the spark the Cardinals sought as they halted a four-game losing streak and stalled the Cubs' division climb.By the end of the evening, Molina's fingerprints were all over the
ST. LOUIS -- On a night when his longevity earned him a special spot in Major League history, Yadier Molina offered the spark the Cardinals sought as they halted a four-game losing streak and stalled the Cubs' division climb.
By the end of the evening, Molina's fingerprints were all over the Cardinals' 5-0 victory, one that prevented the Cubs from finishing off their first sweep at Busch Stadium since 2010.
"Yadi did a great job driving today," manager Mike Matheny said. "He was fun to watch in every aspect today."
It was to be a notable night for Molina from the moment he got behind the plate. Sunday was his 1,756th at the position, tying him with Gabby Hartnett for the most games caught for one team in Major League history. Hartnett, a Hall of Famer, played 19 seasons for the Cubs. Molina is in his 15th season with the Cardinals.
"It's a [point of] pride," Molina said. "I thank God for giving me help to play this game. I've been happy to have been here since my first day, and I'm going to be happy to retire as a Cardinal because this organization means a lot to me and this city means a lot to me."
Molina showcased why he's become so beloved in St. Louis. He helped rookie starter Jack Flaherty navigate through five scoreless innings, and later erased a leadoff single by catching Willson Contreras trying to swipe second. Molina's mound visit to calm Flaherty during a bases-loaded jam in the third proved especially key.
He grounded into a double play to push across the Cardinals' first run, and then padded the lead with an RBI double in the team's two-run eighth. It was the 340th double of Molina's career, moving him into sole possession of ninth place in franchise history.
"I've never seen anything like it, what he's able to do night in and night out from a catching standpoint," said Matt Carpenter. "There's no doubt we're a better team when he's behind the plate. What he's able to do from a pitch-calling standpoint, holding the running game and then, obviously, what kind of hitter he is, he's a huge part of our team."
With Molina igniting some life into a team that had dropped six of its last eight games at home, other pieces fell in place around him. Flaherty held the Cubs hitless in their six chances with runners in scoring position and improved to 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA since rejoining the rotation in mid-May.
The offense wasn't plentiful, but it was timely. Three straight singles to open the sixth positioned the Cardinals to break a scoreless game. And a club that ranked 26th in the Majors with 91 two-out RBIs added two insurance runs with two-out knocks -- including Carpenter's solo homer in the seventh.
Those, coupled with scoreless appearances from four relievers, prevented the Cubs from climbing back into the top spot in the National League Central. Chicago (40-28) sits a half-game back of Milwaukee (42-29), with third-place St. Louis (37-32) four games out of first.
"It doesn't matter who we're playing or what stage or situation, you want to win every single one," Flaherty said. "But to come out with a win in this one was huge. We had guys that really stepped up."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Things got complicated for Flaherty in the third when he issued a two-out walk to load the bases ahead of Kristopher Bryant. Flaherty then fell behind, 2-0, which prompted a visit from Molina.
Yes, they discussed how they'd approach Bryant through the rest of the at-bat. But mainly, Molina wanted Flaherty to pause. It worked. Bryant swung and missed at Flaherty's next three offerings to close the inning. The final pitch of the at-bat -- a 96.5 mph fastball -- was Flaherty's second-fastest pitch this year.
"[It was] Yadi going out and having a conversation and them figuring things out together," Matheny said. "Then having Jack reach back and show some special stuff."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Right fielder Harrison Bader added to his season highlight reel with a gutsy throw that helped squash a Cubs rally in the fourth. Though he was unable to charge in quickly enough to catch Kyle Schwarber's bloop to shallow right with two on and no out, Bader barehanded the ball and, instead of taking the easy out at second, threw a laser to third to retire the lead runner. The throw was 90.5 mph, according to Statcast™. It was Bader's eighth-fastest throw of the season.
"There is no time to think on defense," said Bader, who leads all NL rookie outfielders with five assists. "And I think that's why I do a good job on that side of the ball. It's all reactionary. The first thing in any defensive play is to catch the ball. Then you pick yourself up, survey the field, and you have to trust yourself. That one had a lot of instincts involved. It worked out. "
HE SAID IT
"He really kept us off balance. His slider is really good; I didn't know what it was. It looks like a changeup from the side, and it sweeps. There's plenty of fastball. We've never seen him before. Give him credit; he did good." -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon, on Flaherty
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With two outs in the Cardinals' seventh, Bader singled to left and tried to extend his hit. He was called out at second after a relay throw from Schwarber to second baseman Benjamin Zobrist. The Cardinals challenged the call, but it would stand after a review.
The Cardinals take a break from Busch Stadium after a tough series against rival Chicago and head to Philadelphia to start a three-game set against the Phillies. Right-hander Miles Mikolas (7-2, 2.43 ERA) squares off against righty Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.25) in Monday's 6:05 p.m. CT opener. Mikolas seeks a better outcome after a 4-2 loss to the Padres on Tuesday.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter, and Facebook.