Sunday’s Game Report: Cardinals 2, Pirates 1
By Rob Rains
The Cardinals use an app to send out their starting lineup to the players, usually the night before a game. The lineup notification was delayed for Sunday’s game as the team waited to find out if Yadier Molina was going to be able to play.
Normally there would be a reason to wonder if that would be the case. Molina has had a brutal week; getting hit on the left wrist by a swinging bat, getting another bat strike off the top of his helmet in another game, and on Saturday night, getting hit by a pitch on the same wrist.
Yet there his name was, in the lineup. And there he was, coming to bat in the seventh inning with the Cardinals losing 1-0. And there he was, smiling, after hitting a home run that produced the Cardinals’ fourth consecutive victory.
“That dude is unbelievable, he’s special.” said Jack Flaherty, who went from possibly being the tough-luck losing pitcher to getting the win thanks to the one swing of Molina’s bat. “Nobody really knows what kind of shape his body is in right now. For him to continue to go out there every day and give everything he has, it definitely motivates me to go out there and give everything I’ve got, especially for him.
“He’s just one of a kind. There’s not much else to say about him.”
Flaherty said he doesn’t think it matters what Molina’s body feels like; no matter how beat up he is physically, he is going to play.
“It’s not about how much pain he’s in,” Flaherty said. “Yadi’s leading the way. That’s kind of the way it’s always been.”
Molina admitted that in some ways, this season has seemed like it’s been 180 games long; not the 50 they have played, because of the way his body feels. Molina also missed time after testing positive for COVID-19, but what motivates him now is the finish line. He knows there’s only one week left in the regular season, and the Cardinals are in the playoff hunt.
“We just are finding ways to get wins,” Molina said. “You want to go day by day … I feel we are in the playoffs right now. My team counts on me. Right now if I feel healthy enough to play I’m going to be there. We’re fighting for a spot. We’ve got to go.”
Sunday’s win kept the Cardinals a game ahead of the Reds and Brewers in the race to finish second in the NL Central and clinch a playoff spot.
“The last week’s been tough,” Molina said. “At the same time I just focus on playing the game. I’ve got good enough health to play it. Last night I couldn’t continue because I didn’t have the strength in my hand but I did some treatment last night in my room and this morning I had good strength in my hand so I decided to play.
“As soon as you decide to play you’ve got to forget about everything and go out there and try to do your job, and that’s what I did.”
Andrew Miller’s appreciation and respect for Molina has climbed to an even higher level since becoming his teammate – and might have gone up even another notch this week.
“We knew he was tough but jeez,” Miller said. “What he’s been through … when you see the lineup pop up and he’s in there you are not surprised, no matter what happened the night before. If there’s ever an example that age is only a number, I can’t imagine anybody else being able to deal with what he does.
“Just being a catcher normally in this game you get beat up constantly. You don’t have to get hit in the hand by a bat. You don’t have to get hit by a pitch. You’re just constantly getting pelted by balls. For him to do what he does it’s mind-blowing.
“He seems to come up with that big hit all the time, doesn’t he?”
Here is how the game broke down:
At the plate: The Cardinals had been shut out on three hits through six innings by Joe Musgrove before the Pirates went to the bullpen in the seventh. Matt Carpenter broke an 0-of-22 streak with a leadoff single before Molina connected for the home run down the left field line … The Cardinals struck out 15 times in the game, 11 of them coming against Musgrove. Paul Goldschmidt had a single and double off Musgrove, and the other hit was a leadoff double by Dylan Carlson in the third, but he stayed there as the next three hitters were retired.
On the mound: Flaherty bounced back from giving up a career-high nine runs in his last start, allowing just two hits and striking out 11 in his six innings. His final seven outs all came on strikeouts … Tyler Webb, John Gant and Miller each worked a perfect inning in relief with Miller getting the save. The last five saves by the Cardinals have all come from a different pitcher.
Key stat: In the five games against the Pirates, the Cardinals had just 17 hits in 107 at-bats, a .159 average, and struck out 34 times against the starting pitchers over a combined 30 1/3 innings but their success against the relievers produced wins in four of the five games.
Worth noting: Sunday’s win was the first for the Cardinals scoring two or one runs this season. They had been 0-14 when scoring fewer than three runs … Miller’s appearance vested his option for the 2021 season … The Cardinals acquired a 22-year-old lefthanded minor-league pitcher, Domingo Robles, from the Pirates on Sunday in exchange for international salary cup space.
Looking ahead: Adam Wainwright will get the start on Monday night when the road trip continues in Kansas City with the opener of a three-game series. At the same time, the Brewers and Reds will be playing a three-game series in Cincinnati.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains