Yadier Molina missed seven weeks with a thumb injury this summer, and the St. Louis Cardinals actually gained a half-game in the standings.
Now the six-time All-Star catcher has a pulled left oblique muscle that could sideline him for the rest of the postseason. Molina traveled to the Bay Area and set up at his usual front locker in the visitor’s clubhouse at AT&T Park on Monday afternoon.
“You can’t say enough about what he has done for our team, the way he handles our pitching staff and the leader he is,” leadoff man Matt Carpenter said after the Cardinals beat the Giants 5-4 Sunday to even the NL Championship Series at a game apiece. “Obviously it’s not ideal, but we’ve got a lot of guys stepping up, and we’ve got a bunch of guys who believe in each other. We missed him a little bit during the season and still found a way to get here, so we’re confident that we have guys who will step up.”
Tony Cruz and 37-year-old A.J. Pierzynski are the backups. Cruz couldn’t handle Trevor Rosenthal’s wild pitch in the ninth inning Sunday, which allowed pinch-runner Matt Duffy to score from second with the tying run.
Pierzynski, who wasn’t on the division series roster, has experience from their time together in Boston in catching John Lackey, the Cardinals’ Game 3 starter Tuesday night in San Francisco. Tim Hudson starts for the Giants.
“It stinks,” San Francisco catcher Buster Posey said of the injury. “You hate to see anybody go down, especially a guy like him that means so much to their team. It’s too bad.”
St. Louis was 21-19 when Molina tore a right thumb ligament dragging his hand in the dirt on a slide into third base in mid-July.
“I know all our pitchers pretty well and we’ll try to put a good game plan together and execute it,” Cruz said. “Like I said, I don’t count Yaddi out yet and I don’t know what’s going on yet.”
Molina already had departed Busch Stadium for medical tests when Kolten Wong homered off Sergio Romo leading off the bottom of the ninth.
“It didn’t look real good,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said.
If St. Louis replaces Molina on the league championship series roster, he would be ineligible to play in the World Series.
“If we have to go short with an opportunity to have him back, we’d do that,” Matheny said. “But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Cruz was in the indoor batting cage preparing for a potential pinch-hitting appearance. He wasn’t watching when Molina didn’t make it out of the batter’s box after hitting a double-play grounderl in the sixth.
Molina had bunted for a sacrifice in the fourth inning after tweaking the side, fearful of going full speed. He sacrificed just once this season and had none at all in 2013.
“I didn’t actually see him not run,” Cruz said, “but I knew something was wrong with him.”