ST. LOUIS -- Bad tastes, revisited and then washed away for good.
That’s the night the Cardinals endured on Wednesday, seeing a second consecutive ninth-inning lead evaporate in ugly fashion. But thanks to Yadier Molina, the dour notes were replaced, as he laced a walk-off single to lift the Cardinals to a 3-2 win over the Cubs in the 10th inning at Busch Stadium.
For Molina, it was a respite amid what’s been a brutal stretch of baseball, with a .556 OPS in his last 25 games entering Wednesday. The 26th game prior? The Cardinals’ last walk-off hit, also from Molina. And it was fitting that this one came in support of batterymate Adam Wainwright.
The expectation to deliver in the clutch persists even despite Molina’s struggles, given he’s St. Louis’ leader in high-leverage situations with runners in scoring position.
And that’s what contributes to the thoughts running through the club before Molina laced his opposite-field drive that one-hopped into the left-field seats (which was ruled a single since the celebration found him before he touched second).
“Game’s over,” felt manager Mike Shildt, who was watching from the batting cages after being tossed for arguing a strike-three call on Dylan Carlson in the fifth inning. “I was sitting there and I was like, ‘It's time to go home.’”
This one, also fittingly, gave Molina the most hits against the Cubs among any active player -- 233, one better than the Reds’ Joey Votto.
For the Cardinals, it was a respite from what occurred less than 24 hours prior, seeing a five-run lead in the ninth fall by the wayside as Alex Reyes blew the first save of his career. On Wednesday, a ninth-inning breakdown shared by Giovanny Gallegos and John Gant, featuring three hit-by-pitches, appeared to have the Cardinals on the course for another meltdown.
Instead, it was a feel-good victory over their archrivals -- one they desperately needed.
“Last night was a tough loss, it really was. And you're just sitting there going, ‘We just can't lose this game. We just can't lose,’” said Wainwright, who pitched seven innings of one-run ball. “I mean, I know there's a lot of games left to be played, too, but losing two games in a row where you had them right on the ropes, it would have been really painful.
“The clubhouse is rocking right now. That's where we needed to be.”
The victory helped the Cardinals (48-48) climb back to .500, eight days away from the July 30 Trade Deadline as they try to pin down whether they’ll add to their roster or stand pat. Regardless of which way they decide to go, there were more positives to glean from Wednesday.
A majority of the good feelings came from the defense -- and quickly. It started with Harrison Bader’s home run robbery of Willson Contreras on the second at-bat of the game, which Bader improved upon with his first three-hit game of the season. It continued with a pair of plays third baseman Nolan Arenado has made an expectation now in St. Louis.
And it was capped off by a heads-up play from shortstop Edmundo Sosa in the 10th, entering the game in a double-switch at short an inning prior. He collected a tailor-made double-play ball but adeptly took only the out at second before firing to Molina at home and nabbing Anthony Rizzo in a rundown, ultimately fleeing the top of the inning unscathed, to set up Molina’s heroics.
“That play basically started before anything even happened,” Sosa said through translator Antonio Mujica, running through all the scenarios should the ball find him.
He called it “fun.” His teammates and coaches used “heady,” “excellent” and a play he “nailed” to describe it.
In the scorebooks, it was a 6-2-5-2-6-3 double play. To the Cardinals, it’s known as “The X Play,” as they practiced such situations in Spring Training.
On Wednesday, it was just known as a dish served to the Cubs, similar to the one St. Louis received a day prior.