WBC: World's Best Catcher? Yadi wows in W

March 15th, 2017

 SAN DIEGO -- was ready for the Dominican Republic this time around.

The veteran catcher took over the game -- with his bat, with his arm and with his glove -- in Puerto Rico's second-round opener at the World Baseball Classic on Tuesday, a 3-1 win over the Dominican team that beat Puerto Rico in the championship game of the 2013 Classic and was riding an 11-game win streak in the tournament.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

"I am so grateful to God for this opportunity and to have this type of game, and the credit I give to actually all my teammates," Molina said. "This victory, we went to play ball and we went to kill it. We executed a great game."

Molina, who has played for Puerto Rico (4-0) in all four World Baseball Classics, opened the scoring at Petco Park with a first-inning RBI single, and later homered to give Puerto Rico some breathing room. He threw out trying to steal second base to end the eighth inning -- easily nailing Cruz thanks to a stellar 1.87-second pop time, as tracked by Statcast™, which was faster than all but one of his tracked pop times in 2016, when his season best was 1.86 seconds. And Molina's pitch framing was superb all night long.

"As Yadier Molina goes, the team goes," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "We've been watching that for years in the big leagues and with Team Puerto Rico. But definitely he's the heart of the team."

The 34-year-old made his mark from the outset. In the top of the first, Molina helped Puerto Rico escape a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam unscathed by putting a perfect tag on trying to score on a fly ball, completing an inning-ending double play. Then in the bottom of that frame, he put Puerto Rico on top with a run-scoring knock off his Cardinals teammate, .

Next came the power. With Puerto Rico holding a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth, Molina launched a solo home run to left field, his second of WBC '17. It was a barreled ball, according to Statcast™, with an exit velocity of 100.4 mph, a launch angle of 26 degrees and a projected distance of 369 feet.

The common thread through the game was Molina's defensive work behind the plate. Molina's 1.87-second pop time to nail Cruz in the eighth would have been the 18th-fastest pop time of the 2016 season on a caught stealing at second base. The MLB average pop time on steal attempts of second was 2.01 seconds.

Puerto Rico second baseman dropped a no-look tag on Cruz and pointed at Molina in celebration during the play.

"He had a great jump, but there is no one faster than the ball," Baez said. "It was a great throw from Yadi. The ball got there way before him. When we got back into the clubhouse, everybody started showing me videos and I was like, 'I can't help it. Sorry.'"

Molina's pitch framing also won Puerto Rico borderline strike calls all game. The most notable was the called third strike that ended the game: a borderline high fastball to Segura that Molina framed perfectly at the top of the zone.

"Well, he's Molina," Rodriguez said. "He manages his pitch and the pitching team as a whole. … Yadier Molina, he is dominant in this. He had a lot to do with this victory."

There was also a called third strike on to end the top of the sixth on a slider that was borderline low-and-away; and a strike one call against in the eighth on a fastball that was borderline low, after which Dominican Republic manager Tony Pena was ejected for arguing.

"He's a great professional, and Molina is one of the greatest catchers in baseball today," Pena said. "And today [it was] his mastery that he used, Yadier Molina, to do [that to] these pitches."

After a day of rest, the Dominican Republic resumes play Thursday against Venezuela at 10 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV. It's a must win for the Dominican team, which could fall out of contention with a second loss in Pool F. A Friday evening matchup with Team USA looms for Puerto Rico after two days off. The game is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET on MLB Network and MLB.TV.

The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Tokyo Dome and Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.