Do you remember the time Yadier Molina pulled off a double play at 3rd base against the Pirates? If so, then sit back and enjoy the trip down memory lane. If not, then sit back, return your tray table to its full upright, and locked position. It’s time to jump into the TARDIS and visit a moment on the far left side of my Mt. Rushmore of Molina memories.
It’s May 7th, 2010. The Cardinals are visiting Pittsburgh and playing in front of a boisterous crowd of roughly 174 people – most of them likely employees there at PNC Park. Actual paid attendance was 16,473, but I’m not bound to a purely factual recounting of the events. The human memory tends to be a rather imperfect mechanism, so I’m taking liberties like an 1800’s sailor departing a whaling ship after 12 months at sea. Get over it.
Chris Carpenter wasn’t at his sharpest but was close enough, and you take 7 innings of 8-hit, 2-run ball when you can get it. He was done after 107 pitches and gave way to Jason Motte for the bottom of the 8th with the Cardinals leading 3-2. Motte entered with the Cardinals sitting at a 71% win probability, but line drive singles by Andy LaRoche and Andrew McCutchen to lead off the bottom of the 8th moved the needle in favor of the Pirates.
With runners on first and third and a win probability of 36%, Trever Miller relieved Motte.
Garrett Jones hit a ball right to Miller who worked LaRoche into a rundown. As Huey, Dewey, and Louie were attempting to wrangle LaRoche, McCutchen ran all the way from first to third. Through what may be poorly described as "baseball", LaRoche returned from whence he came seeking to share 3rd base with Cutch.
And this is where the logic train departed the track momentarily without the caboose, and only the conductor kept his wits about him. Molina tagged McCutchen, and while the umpire was pointing to McCutchen to indicate an out, LaRoche assumed himself to be the one who was out. He stepped off the bag and got tagged out for his troubles. If I recall correctly (I don’t), it took somewhere between 5 and 45 seconds to sort out an explanation.
When LaRoche returned to 3rd base, he was entitled to the base as what the MLB book of rules defines as the “preceding runner” with Cutch being the “following runner”. In other words, LaRoche owned it, because he was there first when the play began. McCutchen was just squatting temporarily in anticipation that LaRoche wouldn’t make it back to his former domicile.
The man who started the wheel moving, Garrett Jones, somehow made it to 2nd base during the fracas, but the unusual double play pushed the win probability for the Cardinals up to 75%. Not one to let a fortuitous outcome and unexpected prosperity get in the way of a good meltdown, Miller went on to hit first Ryan Doumit with a 3-1 pitch and then Ryan Church with a 1-1 pitch to load the bases. Still with two outs, his pitch-to-human-contact had only dropped the win probability to 65%.
Then Ryan Franklin replaced Miller and heaved an 0-1 wild pitch that knotted the game at 3 anyway. The Pirates were unable to capitalize on the opportunity, so the game moved onward. As so often happens, Molina’s turn at the plate came in the top of the 9th against Evan Meek who may or may not have been good at pitching. I honestly can’t remember, but when I tell this story to my grandchildren decades from now, Meek will be the next best thing to Mariano Rivera.
The heart of the lineup started it off. Pujols just missed an opposite field home run on a 1-1 pitch. Matt Holliday followed with a single to right field, and Joe “Skates” Mather went in to pinch run. Freese went down swinging to bring up Molina with two outs and Mather on 1st base. Molina proceeded to send a 3-1 pitch into right-center, and Mather's ambulatory skills enabled him to score.
Rasmus was intentionally walked to get to Ryan Franklin. With Franklin at the plate as a conscientious objector more than anything, Molina and Rasmus teamed up for a double steal, but Franklin went down swinging to end the half inning with the win probability at 81%.
Thankfully, Franklin was a slightly better closer than hitter, and he finished out the game with only a minor amount of gnashing of teeth and holding of breath. If not for Molina’s quick thinking, Franklin probably doesn’t get the opportunity, and the Cardinals may not have been on the good side of a 4-3 game.
When you think of Molina, the classic Molina cannon exhibition to throw out a runner represents the low hanging fruit but certainly not the only fruit. There's the snap throw behind the runner who strays too far from the bag. There's also the timely hit, pitch framing, and the way he's turned himself into a viable big league hitter. Just don't forget that mind that seems to process things on a baseball field just a cycle faster than everyone else, because that's what really sets him apart.