A fascinating and hard-fought Game 2 fell the Cardinals’ way Sunday, with Kolten Wong delivering a walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth. It was what happened three innings earlier, when Yadier Molina suffered a strained left oblique, that might decide the fate of the series.
To put it mildly, Tony Cruz had a rough time after replacing Molina behind the plate. He gave up a passed ball on his second batter of the game. In the ninth, he did a terrible job of helping out Trevor Rosenthal when it came to framing the strike zone, turning borderline calls into easy balls. And while Rosenthal deserves more blame than Cruz for the wild pitch that tied the game, Cruz’s attempt to block the ball, turning his head away and seemingly even closing his eyes, was embarrassing, and it led to him not being able to find it afterwards, allowing Matt Duffy to score from second on the play.
The one bit of good news for the Cardinals is that they added A.J. Pierzynski to the roster for the NLCS after going with two catchers in the NLDS. For one thing, he’s a better player than Cruz, whose defensive reputation seems to be inflated by his complete ineptitude at the plate (as predicted by the Nichols’ Law of Catcher Defense). There’s a good chance Mike Matheny will keep using Cruz anyway, since he’s terribly stubborn like that, but at least now the Cardinals have the option.
The Pierzynski add also saves the Cardinals in case there’s any chance of Molina getting healthy to play in the next week or two. If the Cardinals were carrying just two catchers, they might have had to take Molina off the roster and thus lose him for the World Series as well (a player removed from the roster due to injury is ineligible to return during the next series). Or maybe they could have gotten away with saying a pitcher (Michael Wacha?) was hurt and replaced him with a catcher. At least this way, the Cardinals can play with 24 men, which seems like the best option unless they’re sure Molina is done.
Even with a healthy Molina, the NLCS was shaping up as an uphill climb for the Cardinals, what with Adam Wainwright looking little like himself, Rosenthal struggling in the ninth and the Giants now possessing home-field. To overcome it all with their best player sidelined will take a pretty heroic effort. Sunday’s win gives them life, which they probably wouldn’t have had otherwise, but the deck is stacked against them.