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Cardinals’ Yadier Molina adds to his growing list of October moments

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ST. LOUIS — The world slows down. And the moment doesn’t get bigger. It actually gets smaller. And St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is ready for it.

Always.

“He has ice in his veins,” teammate Dexter Fowler said.

On Monday, with his team facing elimination from the MLB playoffs, Molina’s legend added another chapter. Or make that two.

First, he tied Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Atlanta Braves in the bottom of the eighth with a “muscle” hit to right field. It barely got over first baseman Freddie Freeman‘s glove, but brought home Paul Goldschmidt to make it a 4-4 game. Then, with Kolten Wong standing on third base and Marcell Ozuna at first, with one out in the 10th inning, Molina hit a sacrifice fly to left deep enough for Wong to score easily. And just like that, we’ll have a winner-take-all Game 5 on Wednesday in Atlanta.

Both key moments came on the first pitch of the at-bat.

“I’ve been doing that for 60 years,” the 37-year-old Molina joked after the thrilling win. “I’m trying to get it done right away. As a catcher, I know the pitcher is trying to get ahead in the count. I’m just trying to be aggressive.”

The Braves may want to take note of that aggressive style because when his team needs him to come through in a tight game, Molina loves to jump on that first pitch. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, he has the most hits (12) on the first pitch, in the eighth inning or later, when his team trails by exactly one run over the past decade. Yes, that’s a mouthful, but it’s yet another illustration of how clutch Molina really is.

His teammates had absolutely no doubt he would get the ball in the air in the 10th inning, staying away from a double-play grounder while bringing Wong home.

“Some guys thrive in the big moment under pressure,” Matt Carpenter said. “Yadi is as good as anyone I’ve ever seen at that. There’s no question when that situation came up in the 10th, he was going to get it done somehow, whether it be walk, hit, homer or sac fly.”

And more than one Cardinals teammate made sure to point out this was no accident. Molina works at his craft.

“He’s working on it in the cage,” Goldschmidt said. “He works on moving the runner, works on getting the ball in the air, works on hit-and-run, any situation, he’s always working on different situations.”

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Marcell Ozuna hits two home runs and Yadier Molina ties and wins the game as the Cardinals top the Braves 5-4 to force Game 5 of the NLDS.

Just how precise is Molina with those little things, the things that many in the game don’t bother with? Cardinals manager Mike Shildt tells a story of a time this season when he called for a hit-and-run with Molina batting, men on first and third and less than two outs.

“Similar to tonight,” Shildt said. “Big-time ground ball guy [on the mound]. And the runner at first missed the sign. So he doesn’t run. So Yadi, as the ball’s coming, recognizes that the guy [isn’t running] — and he starts to kind of make sure he’s getting on top [of the ball]. Guy doesn’t run. Mid-flight, [Molina] changes his approach and hits a fly ball in the middle of the pitch. It takes four-hundredths of a second to get home, and that was the game.

“After the game, I was, like, ‘Did you really change your swing?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, the guy wasn’t running so I need to get a ball in the air for a sac fly.’ He’s a pretty amazing individual.”

Just ask Cardinals fans how amazing. Their only question would not be if a statue of Molina should be built outside of Busch Stadium, but where it should go. There’s a love affair between him and the city that added another layer after his Game 4 heroics.

“He’s a special player and it seems like the moments just find him,” Carpenter said. “Part of that is his ability to come through in big moments. It just adds to an amazing career.”

Molina plays it calm and cool in the batter’s box, but no one would say he’s without emotion. As he reached first base in the 10th and realized the ball was deep enough to score Wong, he chucked his bat into right field in what must be the farthest bat flip ever. Then the mob scene began.

“In that moment you can’t control yourself,” Molina said of the bat toss.

Molina also made a throat-slash gesture during his celebration.

Of his on-field leader again delivering when his team needed it most, Shildt said, “It’s what this guy lives for, you know? This is exactly what Yadier Molina lives for. This is what he trains for.”

That sounds like a cliché but when you consider, according to Elias Sports Bureau research, Molina is the third player in postseason history with game-tying and game-winning RBIs in separate plate appearances in the eighth inning or later for a team facing elimination, it seems he was meant for these moments.

“You have to keep calm and concentrate,” Molina said. “I like those moments. I don’t know what it is, but my concentration level is up there.”

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MLB widens investigation of Astros’ conduct to last 3 seasons

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Major League Baseball has widened its investigation of alleged sign stealing by the Houston Astros and will probe activity by the team over the past three seasons.

After the conclusion of owners meetings Thursday, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said MLB will “investigate the Astros situation as thoroughly as humanly possible.” The probe includes the team’s firing of an assistant general manager during the World Series for clubhouse comments directed at female reporters, behavior the club at first accused Sports Illustrated of fabricating.

Oakland pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic in a story last week that while he was playing with the Astros during their 2017 World Series championship season the team stole signs during home games by using a camera positioned in center field. During this year’s playoffs, Houston players were suspected of whistling in the dugout to communicate pitch selection to batters.

Manfred says “that investigation is going to encompass not only what we know about ’17, but also ’18 and ’19.” MLB is “talking to people all over the industry, former employees, competitors, whatever. To the extent that we find other leads, we’re going to follow these leads.”

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Baseball owners approve Greg Johnson as Giants’ control person

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SAN FRANCISCO — Greg Johnson was approved by the major league clubs as the new controlling owner of the San Francisco Giants.

Following the decision Thursday at the owners meetings in Arlington, Texas, Giants president and CEO Larry Baer will still represent the club at the meetings, along with Johnson and Rob Dean, who had been handling leadership duties since March.

Baer was suspended without pay from March 4 through July 1 after a video showed him in a physical altercation with his wife.

Johnson is the son of Charles Johnson, part of the group including late managing partner Peter Magowan that bought the Giants in 1993 and kept them from relocating to Florida. Greg Johnson will be chairman and Dean the vice chairman, and both will be managing members, the team said in a statement.

Baer and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi will report to Johnson and Dean.

Dean is the son-in-law of late Giants principal owners Harmon and Sue Burns. Dean had been serving as the interim control person with Major League Baseball and the team’s board of directors. The Giants planned the changes to their governance structure after Baer’s absence.

A video posted by TMZ showed Pam Baer seated in a chair when Larry Baer reached over her to grab for a cellphone in her right hand and she toppled sideways to the ground in the chair screaming, “Oh my god!” The couple later released a statement saying they were embarrassed by the situation and regretted having a heated argument in public.

Baer, long the face of the franchise, sat a few rows back rather than on the podium when San Francisco introduced new manager Gabe Kapler at Oracle Park last week.

Bruce Bochy retired after the season following a 25-year managerial career that included the past 13 seasons with the Giants after 12 years with the Padres. His teams won World Series championships in 2010, ’12 and ’14.

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MLB owners approve Greg Johnson as Giants’ controlling owner

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SAN FRANCISCO — Greg Johnson was approved by the major league clubs as the new controlling owner of the San Francisco Giants.

Following the decision Thursday at the owners meetings in Arlington, Texas, Giants president and CEO Larry Baer still will represent the club at the meetings, along with Johnson and Rob Dean, who had been handling leadership duties since March.

Baer was suspended without pay from March 4 through July 1 after a video showed him in a physical altercation with his wife.

Johnson is the son of Charles Johnson, part of the group including late managing partner Peter Magowan that bought the Giants in 1993 and kept them from relocating to Florida. Greg Johnson will be chairman and Dean the vice chairman, and both will be managing members, the team said in a statement.

Baer and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi will report to Johnson and Dean.

Dean is the son-in-law of late Giants principal owners Harmon and Sue Burns. Dean had been serving as the interim control person with Major League Baseball and the team’s board of directors. The Giants planned the changes to their governance structure after Baer’s absence.

The video posted by TMZ showed Pam Baer seated in a chair when Larry Baer reached over her to grab for a cellphone in her right hand and she toppled sideways to the ground in the chair screaming, “Oh my God!” The couple later released a statement saying they were embarrassed by the situation and regretted having a heated argument in public.

Baer, long the face of the franchise, sat a few rows back rather than on the podium when San Francisco introduced new manager Gabe Kapler at the ballpark last week.

Bruce Bochy retired after the season following a 25-year managerial career that included the past 13 with the Giants and the previous 12 with the Padres. His teams won World Series championships in 2010, ’12 and ’14.

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