Programming note: For comprehensive Giants-Cardinals NLCS coverage, watch “October Quest” tonight at 6:30 & 8:00 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
SAN FRANCISCO – The Cardinals won’t have Yadier Molina to shepherd their pitchers, shut down the running game and pick apart the Giants lineup in Game 3 of the NLCS on Tuesday.
But they will have Molina in their dugout, and, they claim, potentially available as a defensive replacement – and that’s more than they expected after he strained his left oblique and locked up in the batter’s box Sunday.
Swinging a bat was “not a priority,” according to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, and in all likelihood given the nature of the injury, is not likely to happen any time soon. But the Cardinals opted against replacing Molina on the NLCS roster, knowing that move would make him ineligible to play in the World Series should they advance.
The Cardinals held up their charter so that Molina could join them on the flight to San Francisco, and Matheny said he was surprised at how well Molina was able to throw when he played catch Monday.
“I didn’t think there was any possibility, having had that injury myself and knowing how hard it is to throw,” Matheny said. “But he was throwing the ball with some velocity, and it was encouraging to see. I know it’s great having him with us in any capacity.”
The loss of Molina would be a huge factor in any series, but perhaps less so against the Giants because they’ve stolen just two bases in the postseason. Still, it didn’t take long for Molina’s absence to be felt Sunday night when Tony Cruz allowed a passed ball and couldn’t block a wild pitch, which contributed to a pair of runs in the Cardinals’ eventually 5-4, series-knotting victory.
How will the Cardinals rebound from this loss?
“Any team that loses that key piece, you never know how they are going to respond, and I was real proud of the guys,” said Matheny, who already had to manage without Molina for seven weeks in July and August because of a thumb injury.
“It’s hard for them not to hear what’s being said nationally about this (being) the one guy our club can’t do without. That actually gave us a little spur, because that insults the rest of the guys in the room to say they are not good enough to do it.
It’s a great compliment to Yadi, as everybody knows how valuable he is and how much we appreciate what he does. But we do believe the other guys can step in and pick up the slack.”
Matheny wouldn’t name a starting catcher for Tuesday’s Game 3 at AT&T Park, but he’s expected to go with A.J. Pierzynski, who caught scheduled starter John Lackey earlier this season when they were teammates with the Boston Red Sox.
Pierzynski was a Giant for one season, in 2004, and it was a marriage fit for the Jerry Springer Show.
“I know he’s looking forward to his warm reception in San Francisco tomorrow,” Matheny said of Pierzynski.
Matheny said his decision to add Pierzynski as a third catcher had nothing to do with any hint that Molina was nursing an injury. The oblique issue cropped up in his first at-bat Sunday, when he collected his 81st hit to pass Albert Pujols for the Cardinals’ all-time postseason lead. Molina put down a bunt in his next plate appearance and left the game in his next trip after that, when he grounded into a double play.
When right-hander Lackey takes the mound Tuesday, it’ll be his first postseason start against the Giants since he was a rookie and started Game 7 of the World Series at Anaheim.
A reporter mentioned that he intentionally walked Barry Bonds four times in that series.
“Wouldn’t you? Jeez,” Lackey said, drawing laughs. “I mean, no offense to anybody in their lineup, but they don’t got Barry Bonds.”
Right-hander Adam Wainwright, who has shown very little confidence in his fastball in two laborious postseason starts, continues to profess his readiness for a Game 5 rematch with Madison Bumgarner.
How did his side session go on Monday?
“Well, his side sessions are not exactly electric,” Matheny said, smiling. “He goes out there and it’s nice and easy. He saves his bullets. He knows he’s a guy that we abuse out there. … He feels really good and that’s exciting for us because his game comes down to feel, and when he has a good feel for his fastball, next thing you know, his breaking ball has a nice, sharp break to it.”
Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, who had allowed just one run (0.39 ERA) in 20 career postseason appearances before blowing a save in Game 2 on Sunday, might have struggled to locate because his cleats got clogged with mud, Matheny said.
“He’s not a guy (who) is going to make excuses,” Matheny said. “That’s just evaluating what happened.”
Rosenthal slid as he landed on the wild pitch to Joe Panik that tied the game.
I asked Matheny if he remembered the last time, before Game 2, that four different Giants pitchers gave up home runs in the same game. Or, more specifically, if he could name the poor catcher the last time it happened.
“I think I can guess where you’re going with this …” Matheny said.
It was Sept. 9, 2005, and Matheny was behind the plate as Jason Schmidt, Jeff Fassero, Scott Eyre and Armando Benitez each gave up home runs at Dodger Stadium.