ST. LOUIS -- He has thrown out runners from his knees, paused for pushups during an at-bat and notched countless clutch hits. But after 14 seasons and 1,600 games behind the plate, Yadier Molina executed a new first to help the Cardinals to a 7-5 win over the Reds on
ST. LOUIS -- He has thrown out runners from his knees, paused for pushups during an at-bat and notched countless clutch hits. But after 14 seasons and 1,600 games behind the plate, Yadier Molina executed a new first to help the Cardinals to a 7-5 win over the Reds on Friday.
He turned a walk into an out.
Subtle eye contact between Molina and third baseman Jedd Gyorko initiated a play that bailed Lance Lynn out of a bases-loaded mess and kept manager Mike Matheny from having to turn to his bullpen in the sixth inning. Of the 48 career pickoffs Molina now has on his resume, this was likely the most unexpected.
"He's sneaky," Lynn quipped afterward. "Yadi is always on his toes, and we have infielders that are in tune with what he's doing."
Indeed, it took two to complete the highlight. It started when Devin Mesoraco worked a nine-pitch walk to load the bases with two outs in the sixth. Eugenio Suarez was running on the pitch, slowed to a jog as he neared third, but still took a few steps past the bag. That's when Molina and Gyorko spotted an opening.
Instead of throwing the ball back to Lynn, Molina held on to it. And while Suarez gazed down the third-base line, Gyorko crept up behind him.
"I was waiting for it," Molina said. "It was a timing thing."
"I just made sure I wasn't tipping off anything," Gyorko added. "I just walked behind him really, acted like nothing was going on."
Suarez never caught on to what was happening, which left him vulnerable when Molina whipped a perfect throw to his third baseman. Even after Suarez was tagged out, it took him a few seconds to register what had just occurred. He asked the umpire if time had been called. It hadn't.
"I thought it was a pitching change or the hitter was coming to the plate," Suarez said. "I wasn't paying attention, and you've got to pay attention, especially with that guy. He's good."
The play wasn't just novel, either. It was critical. Had the inning continued, Scooter Gennett would have come to bat with three runners on and the Reds trailing by two. Matheny would have turned to reliever Brett Cecil to face him. Instead, Lynn was credited with his second straight six-inning start.
Lynn pumped his fist as he walked off the field grinning. Molina, whose 48 pickoffs rank fourth-most all-time, leapt on his way to the dugout.
"I love watching when these guys go about it like it's a backyard pickup game, looking for fun things or something out-of-the-box to do," Matheny said. "And Yadi's eyes are always looking for that. That's part of what makes him special."
Friday's pickoff reminded many of the sneaky play Molina pulled off last month while representing Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. In a game against the Netherlands, Molina caught Jurickson Profar celebrating a single by whipping a throw to first to retire him. Puerto Rico went on to win the game.
"You take your eye off the ball and he'll find a way to back-pick you," said Reds manager Bryan Price. "That's what he does. He's famous for it. I think about everybody in the National League has been picked off by this guy at least once in their careers if they've been here long enough. There are a lot of people learning a lesson when Molina's behind the plate."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast.