La Russa hails Molina as candidate for a gold mitt

Thursday, September 15, 2005

ST. LOUIS -- In the offseason the St. Louis Cardinals allowed a three-time Gold Glove catcher to leave as a free agent because they have a young one who's every bit as talented.

This is the first year as the starter for Yadier Molina, 21, and his manager already is touting him for a Gold Glove.

"He's done enough to be one of the guys considered," Tony La Russa said. "I thought he was going to be great and he's been great."

Molina, the third of three catching brothers in the major leagues, was perhaps the biggest question mark on the team entering spring training. He quickly eased any anxieties with defense at least equal if not superior to that of the departed Mike Matheny, and a bat good enough that La Russa has used him at cleanup at times in a patchwork lineup that at one point was minus four regulars.

"Outstanding," 21-game winner Chris Carpenter said. "I can't say enough about the kid. He's mentally mature way above his years and he understands the game, knows what he's doing, understands the things I like to do and the way I like to pitch.

"We're always on the same page."

Molina was among the many injured Cardinals, missing 33 games with a broken left hand after getting hit by a pitch by the Diamondbacks' Claudio Vargas in early July. He took the setback like a veteran, preparing as best he could during his time on the disabled list and emerging as if in a midseason groove.

His second game back was a three-hit effort on Aug. 19, including a three-run homer in the ninth inning, against the Giants. He drove in at least one run in four straight games from Aug. 31-Sept. 4, and had been hitting .259 with three homers and 16 RBIs in 24 games since returning.

When Molina began the year 1-for-31 La Russa said he didn't care if he got a hit all season because his defensive skills would be plenty to bring to the table. But he's no easy out, hitting a 410-foot shot for his eighth homer against the Pirates' Ian Snell on Tuesday.

"I believe in myself," Molina said. "I'm proud of all my skills."

It was a given for the Cardinals that his defense would not miss a beat. Molina has picked off eight runners, and of the 26 runners that have been foolhardy enough to try stealing against him, only 11 have been successful.

"It's a challenge to get there with him throwing," La Russa said. "The other side knows it, too. They've got the watches."

It's a challenge to get past him at the plate, too. Molina took a head-on charge from the Pirates' Ty Wigginton in the fourth inning Tuesday and as usual, hung on to the ball.

Wigginton also tried unsuccessfully to pile-drive Molina last year.

Molina, as taught by the Cardinals, gave Wigginton a sliver of the plate so he could slide and avoid contact. But he was ready for the body blow.

"I was in good position to avoid the hit, but I feel fine," Molina said. "I don't care. If he wants to do that again, I'm going to be ready."

Molina's brothers, Bengie and Jose, both catch for the Angels. Yadier was a third baseman and pitcher until he was 15, but now he doesn't want to play anywhere else.

"It's good to grow up like that in that family," Molina said. "I like this position. I want to be the main guy on the field and I'm proud of all my skills."

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