Molina Again Excels in Crunch Time

St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina powered his Carolina Giants club into the Puerto Rican Winter League semifinals with a clutch three-run double in extra innings of a one-game playoff. Winter rest for the busy Molina could begin anywhere from several weeks to a month in the future. Yet Spring Training starts in just five weeks…

Starting with our previous Winter League reports, remains the only Cardinals news source reporting that catcher Yadier Molina has been playing in his Puerto Rican homeland, against the organization's wishes.

Coming into the final weekend of regular season play, Molina had warmed up a bit at the plate, raising his winter average to .203. He had three doubles and a home run in his first 64 at-bats. Of course, that is still generally a substandard showing against competition that is considered Triple-A level caliber.

Molina's winter club, the Carolina Giants, had been in a dogfight to make the postseason. They ended the regular season tied for the fourth and final playoff spot with a 21-23 record.

As a result, Yadi and the Giants faced his brother Jose's Ponce Lions in a one-game playoff on Saturday. If Carolina won, they would continue to the semifinal round and if not, the Cardinals' Molina would probably be done playing ball for the winter.

In an exciting 12-inning contest, the Giants prevailed over Ponce by a 4-1 score with the younger Molina playing the leading role as the hitting star. With the game tied 1-1 and the bases loaded in the top of the 12th, Yadi cleared the bases with a clutch two-out double to right-center.

Jose Molina scores Ponce's only run past Yadi (The New Day)

Molina had injured his left thumb in the tenth inning and it was thought he might have to leave the game. Instead, he remained and eventually won it, increasing his fame and reputation even more - not that he needed it after his dramatic and unexpected home run in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the National League Championship Series.

"I hurt myself when I was warming up Luis Gonzalez. But I was not going to leave. This team is my home, this is my family and we had to win this game. I was not the only one who contributed; my teammates did great work", maintained Molina in the jubilant dressing room of the Giants.

Before that fateful at-bat, Molina had failed twice with runners in scoring position. "But I was not thinking about that. I simply wanted to make good contact and score those runs", Molina told The New Day.

Due to the late surge, Molina ended his regular season with a .214 batting average. Five of his 15 hits were for extra bases. He drove in ten runs, but also fanned ten times in 70 at-bats.

By the way, in case there is any doubt about the seriousness of play in Puerto Rico, Molina was recently fined along with Carolina's pitching coach Rafy Montalvo for arguing balls and strikes with the umpires.

Despite all the excitement, no doubt many Cardinals fans would have probably hoped Carolina lost on Saturday so Molina could grab some much needed rest. Instead, he plays on.

In the upcoming semifinals, Molina's Giants will face the Mayaguez Indians, who finished 21-17 in the regular season, good for first place. That seven-game series begins Tuesday.

The worst case from the perspective of those who prefer Molina take some time off would be the following. If Carolina ends up representing Puerto Rico in this year's Caribbean Series, Yadi could play an entire additional month - through February 7.

Putting additional pressure on Molina to continue to play is the fact that the Caribbean Series is held in his homeland only once every four years – and that happens to be here in 2007. To make the allure even stronger, the Series will be held in the Giants' home park in Carolina, Roberto Clemente Walker Stadium.

To top it off, in their history, the Giants have yet to win the Caribbean Series. The Puerto Ricans do have 14 championships in all, second to the Dominican Republic with 15.

Estadio Roberto Clemente Walker

While this is only speculation on my part, given the above, it is quite possible that Molina could be added to the roster of whichever Puerto Rican club makes the Series even if not his own. Regular season rosters of the Caribbean Series clubs often morph into a group of All-Stars as each nation pulls out all the stops in an attempt to win the prestigious annual crown.

The tournament, pitting Molina's land against the best from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Mexico, begins February 2nd. The other three nations' playoffs are already underway and will continue through January.

Just one week after the final game of the Caribbean Series, on February 14, Molina is expected to report to the Cardinals Spring Training camp in Jupiter, Florida. That potential one-week rest would barely allow the catcher time to pick up some clean laundry before hitting the road again.

While we may never know for sure, common sense would seem to indicate that Molina may come to camp not fully refreshed for the 2007 National League season.

Apparently Molina is not worried, as he was quoted recently in The Voice of Puerto Rico as being disappointed he did not win the Gold Glove in 2006 and hopes to rectify that in 2007.

"I felt frustrated because it did not occur. I was very sad. But my wife spoke with me and she helped me to understand. But the truth is that it was close. I wanted to obtain it, just as (his brother) Bengie did in 2002 and 2003. And Jose could not have had it because he does not play every day, but he is the best one of all of us. I wanted to gain that Glove and know that I had the numbers for it. But then now I will work hard for next season. It would follow as a great complement for my ring," Yadi said.

Yet, while his goals remain admirably high, if Molina wilts in the long, hot St. Louis summer of 2007, he will leave himself open to some serious second-guessing as to why he didn't find some way to take this winter off.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

© 2007 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.

The Cardinal Nation Top Stories