St. Louis Cardinals: Molina Keeps Team Puerto Rico Undefeated

Mar 9, 2017; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Puerto Rico catcher Yadier Molina against the Colorado Rockies during a 2017 World Baseball Classic exhibition game at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2017; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Puerto Rico catcher Yadier Molina against the Colorado Rockies during a 2017 World Baseball Classic exhibition game at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

St. Louis Cardinals catcher, Yadier Molina, has another big night for Team Puerto Rico as they hand the Dominican Republic its first loss in 12 games.

When strike three was called to end a dramatic game between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Yadier Molina lifted his arms in praise and raced out to Edwin Diaz, his closer, with a big smile on his face. In what seemed like revenge for the final In 2013, Molina (best known as the St. Louis Cardinals catcher) once again put Team Puerto Rico on his back and led the way.

Behind Molina’s stellar display, both offensively and defensively, Team Puerto Rico handed the Dominican Republic its first loss in WBC play since 2009. In a game reminiscent of Game 7 of the World Series, Puerto Rico now sits atop Pool F with a date with the United States next.

As I mentioned, Molina’s brilliance behind the plate and at the plate will long be remembered. He continues to impress in this year’s tournament. Offensively and defensively, he did it all.

Molina tames a powerful lineup

If you read my article about Molina’s debut with Team Puerto Rico, you already know where I am going to go with this. As a catcher it’s not just about the tangible of defense like blocking ability or ability to throw out a runner. The intangibles of managing your pitches and setting up hitters is just as important. Nobody does it better than Yadi.

Just like Team Venezuela, the Dominican Republic featured All-Star after All-Star after All-Star. Even when down 5-0 to the United States, the Dominican Republic mustered enough power to win. They are undoubtedly the team to beat in the WBC.

And just like Team Venezuela, the Dominican Republic ran into the buzz saw that is Yadier Molina.

Where do I start? Throughout the entire game, pitch after pitch, Molina did what he does best. He worked the hitter’s counts. He changed the angles at which each pitch entered the strike zone. And for all the criticism Molina took for his framing ability last season, he laid that to rest with each backward K.

The umpire gave Molina a few calls, but give Molina credit to make the pitches close enough to the strike zone. I don’t blame the Dominicans for being upset with the zone, but if the umpire is calling strikes, be ready to swing.

Perhaps the biggest moment in the game was the 1st inning. The Dominican Republic had the bases loaded, no outs and managed to not score a single run. If you watched the sequence of at-bats, Molina guided each at-bat as if he already knew the outcome.

After two consecutive hits and a walk for the Dominican team, Molina got Jose Bautista to strike out swinging on a change-up. Then, two pitches later, a double play straight out of the Dominican playbook as Cardinal Nation took a collective breath as Molina placed a swipe tag on Jean Segura for the third out of the inning.

Not many catchers and pitchers can get out of a jam like that especially against a lineup like the one they were facing. The double play changed the rest of the game. It seemed like Molina could do no wrong behind the plate after that. After the Nelson Cruz home run, there was only one other serious threat. Gregory Polanco stole second on a ball in dirt to reach scoring position, and that was it.

Outside of the intangibles of Molina’s defense, fans were treated to what we Cardinals fans know him best for: his arm. In what was the second-most important part of the game, Nelson Cruz attempted to steal second from Yadier. Sorry, Nelson Cruz.

I’m not sure what Cruz was thinking. Out of all the players on the Dominican team, the last person I expect to steal is Nelson Cruz. Come on, man.

Tonight, Molina again showed the world why he is the best defensive catcher in the game today. He is at the top of the board and master of his craft. As the manager of Puerto Rico said, “As Yadi goes, they go.”

Molina Deals First and Final Blows to the Dominicans

Molina had himself another great day at the plate. Molina went 2-for-4, with a HR and two RBI.

His first at-bat came off fellow Cardinal, Carlos Martinez. Martinez was the starting pitcher for the Dominicans. It was a nice moment of two teammates battling to get the best of each other. You could see both Martinez and Molina smiling at each other as Molina walked up to the plate.

On a 1-0 count, Molina was able to put a bloop single down in left field, scoring Francisco Lindor from second to put Puerto Rico up 1-0 in the game. Molina didn’t exactly lace it off Martinez, but between the two of them…his reaction says it all.

Yadier had one more at-bat against Carlos, but flew out to right. Martinez got some revenge for the earlier at bat, but I’m sure he would gladly have saved that run from scoring. It wasn’t until the sixth inning, yet again, that Molina put Team Puerto Rico up for good.

On the very first pitch, Molina took a fastball over the middle of the plate and put it into the left field stands for a home run. The home run, his second of the tournament, put Puerto Rico up 3-1. He is clearly seeing the ball well now. If the St. Louis Cardinals can get this kind of at-bat from Molina throughout the season, we could see a resurgence in his offense number this season.

Here is what the home run looked like from a couple of angles:

Yadios Beisbol.

Next: Molina Upset with MLB

Molina’s performance on Tuesday certainly has sparked debate of MVP of the tournament. As I said last week, he is the leader of Team Puerto Rico. He has them on the right track so far and up next for him, the United States. Something tells me we might see an encore for Yadi.