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For Yadier Molina of Cardinals, it doesn't get much lower

Yadier Molina struggled at bat and is the type to take blame for Cardinals' pitching woes. He'll try to bounce back in Game 6 against Dodgers.

October 17, 2013|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • Yadier Molina stikes out in the ninth inning of Game 5.
Yadier Molina stikes out in the ninth inning of Game 5. (David Carson / MCT )

As the St. Louis Cardinals' assistant hitting coach, Bengie Molina will spend much of Thursday's off-day preparing for Game 6 of the National League Championship Series studying video of Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw and the at-bats of his own players from Wednesday's 6-4 loss in Game 5.

He also planned to set aside a few minutes to be a big brother.

Yadier Molina may be the best catcher in baseball, the heart and soul of the Cardinals, the guiding force behind the team's talented young pitching staff, a five-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner who helped St. Louis win the 2006 and 2011 World Series.

He is also human and was hurting after enduring one of the most miserable games of his distinguished 10-year career. He grounded into double plays Wednesday with the bases loaded in the first inning and runners on first and third in the third, then struck out in the sixth and ninth.

"I've been there, and I was a pretty strong-minded kid," said Bengie Molina, the former Angels catcher who was an integral part of the team's 2002 World Series run. "But when I had rough games, I wanted someone to put a hand on my shoulder, to pump me up. I'll do that with Yadi, and then we'll let it go."

Yadier Molina is not immune to failure; he's just not accustomed to it. He hit .319 with 12 homers, 44 doubles and 80 runs batted in this season and .373 with runners in scoring position, sixth-best in the league. He was the fifth-toughest player to strike out in the NL, with a strikeout every 9.84 plate appearances.

Bengie Molina thought Yadier was too eager Wednesday.

"A lot of times, he's over-aggressive, trying to do the job, over-swinging instead of just trying to put the ball in play," Bengie said. "But it's nothing big."

Yadier was probably just as disappointed with the four homers the Dodgers hit, two by Adrian Gonzalez and one by Carl Crawford and A.J. Ellis. Molina called the pitches, and when pitchers struggle, catchers carry the burden.

"He's such a fierce competitor that he wants the best for you, and if a pitcher gives up the game, he'll take more blame on himself than putting it on the pitcher," said Trevor Rosenthal, the Cardinals' rookie closer. "It's pretty remarkable how much pride he takes in doing his job."

Rosenthal is one of five rookies on a St. Louis pitching staff — Game 6 starter Michael Wacha and relievers Carlos Martinez, Seth Maness and Kevin Siegrist are the others — that has been effective and, at times, dominant this October.

And it is very clear that the man on the receiving end of their pitches — many of which travel 95 mph or faster — has as much to do with the staff's success as the ones throwing them. In Yadier, the Cardinals trust.

"You see how much he studies hitters, you know how much experience he has facing guys, and he knows what's going to work best," Rosenthal said. "Any thoughts I have, or a game plan I can make for myself, he's usually on the same page. There's not much shaking off. That hasn't happened too many times."

Not only does Molina reduce the stress level of young pitchers who might be overwhelmed by their first playoff experience, he eases pressure on Manager Mike Matheny, a former catcher himself.

"In my mind," Matheny said, "we have one of the best on-field managers you can have in Yadier Molina."

Molina committed only four errors and allowed three passed balls in 131 games this season. "You can throw a 30-foot heater and spike it, and the guy blocks everything," Cardinals pitcher Joe Kelly said. Molina also threw out 20 of 46 base-stealers, a major league-best 43% success rate.

"In my opinion, not only is Yadi the MVP of that team, but of the league," said Dodgers reserve outfielder Skip Schumaker, a former Cardinals teammate of Molina. "What he means to them defensively, commanding the game, shutting down the running game almost completely....

"If you watch him really closely during the game, he's moving in outfielders, telling infielders to take a step right or left. He's one of the smarter baseball people I've been around and maybe the smartest.

"He makes the team that much better and makes those young pitchers so good because they know they can trust him and not have to shake him off at any point. That's a really good thing to have confidence-wise when you're a young pitcher."

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna

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