It’s the pickoff at first play. by @c70
When you talk about how special Yadier Molina is, you’ll get a lot of answers. You’ll get how he shepherds a pitching staff. You’ll get how his bat has developed from weakling to mighty oak. You’ll get his reliability, how he plays at least 10% if not 20% more games than the next catcher. There are so many amazing qualities from Yadi and I know that the people contributing to this series will tackle them all.
For me, though, it was the pickoff at first play.
If you don’t remember it--and I can’t imagine that you don’t--Molina and Albert Pujols had this second sense to when a runner was wandering off too far from first. There was no sign, no signal, just a snap throw from Yadi to a waiting Mang and suddenly a threat was neutralized. Before Yadi, I don’t think I ever conceived of a catcher being able to get an out on the bases that wasn’t a caught stealing. I still don’t--except when Yadier Molina is behind the plate.
Obviously, we’ve seen Molina do some of these at other bases. The pickoffs at third last year were incredible. However, nothing beat the regularity of that snap throw and that snap tag and seeing an inning disintegrate before the opponent’s eyes. It was two people knowing each other so deeply that they could think along with each other without even catching eyes. The runner never had a chance.
Red Schoendienst passed away this year, as we all know, and a number of the stories that were told about his passing were about his remarkable friendship with Stan Musial. Red and Stan were two guys that played together, roomed together, got to know each other, and became best of friends. They were inseparable and while Stan might have had the greater glory, Red was no slouch either. Quality attracts quality, as it were.
If Albert had accepted the Cardinals’ offer after the 2011 season, I believe we’d be hearing more stories about the relationship between him and Yadi. After all, there’s a lot of the Pujols drive and ethic in Yadi. Not that he didn’t have it before 2004, when he made his major league debut. There’s no doubt Yadi has put in the time and effort ever since he was a youngster playing with his brothers in Puerto Rico.
Even Yadi has said he probably wouldn’t be the player that he is without Pujols’s mentoring and coaching. That bat that was so paltry in 2006 (though I will say, even then, I always wanted Yadi hitting in a big situation because he seemed to come through) became a roaring monster a few years later and a significant portion of that had to be listening to one of the greatest hitters to play the game, absorbing all that Pujols had to offer.
Albert left St. Louis after 2011 but his legacy remains in the play of Yadier Molina. Molina, in turn, has become the icon and lifetime Cardinal Pujols could have been but rejected. Molina will have his number retired in his last game. He’ll likely have a statue out front. Pujols may have those things as well but they’ll take a little longer. Wounds heal but consequences remain.
Still, in my mind’s eye, I can still see it, a play that I miss often.
The pickoff at first play.