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Molina Pulls the Cards’ Bacon Out of the Fire Twice and Walks it Off for a 5-4 Cards Win in the 10th

Divisional Series - Atlanta Braves v St Louis Cardinals - Game Four Photo by Scott Kane/Getty Images

I have a confession to make. As I was writing my notes in the middle of this game in preparation for the recap, I couldn’t help but starting that my assignment was going to be a farewell recap. After starting to write recaps at the end of July, I wasn’t sure whether we were going to make it into the postseason. But once we did, I selfishly wanted to write at least one victory recap in the postseason. And for a good while, with the Cardinals on the ropes this game, it looked like that was not going to happen. There were so many moments in the game where instinctively most of us probably thought to ourselves “This game is over.”

But I decided I was going to stick with my past practice and not write my introductory remarks—which I expected to consist of thanks to the VEB community—until after the game was over. And I am glad I did. The Atlanta Braves went with Dallas Keuchel on 3 days of rest to start against Dakota Hudson. Keuchel had done this twice before, most recently picking up the win in the 2015 Wild Card Game. Hudson was pitching on 9 days of rest.

Behind Goldschmidt and Ozuna, the Cards jumped on the board early, but the Braves took advantage of some poor defense in the top of the 5th to take the lead that they would keep in the 8th. In the interim, the Braves would strand the bases loaded in both the 6th and 7th innings, failing to take advantage of a leadoff triple from Acuna due to poor defense in the latter. The Braves also failed to score Acuna from 2nd base after he hit a leadoff double in the top of the 9th. The Braves were 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 9 men. The Cards weren’t any better in that department, with their only hit with runners in scoring position in 10 at-bats coming with Yadier Molina’s RBI-single to tie the game in the bottom of the 8th.

Tyler Webb, John Brebbia and Ryan Helsley turned in strong performances in the bullpen, and Goldschmidt and Ozuna collectively had 5 hits in 10 plate appearances with 3 home runs between them to keep the Cards in the game. Credit Kolten Wong for rebounding after 3 strikeouts to get in scoring position to lead off the 10th inning. And finally, Yadier Molina came through with 2 critical at-bats to ensure a Game 5 matchup between Jack Flaherty and Mike Foltynewicz on Wednesday, which is what we all wanted.

Ronald Acuna led off the game by tapping a low-and-away 0-1 slider just to the left of the mound. Hudson raced in to get it, but he had no possible play and Acuna reached with an infield single. Ozzie Albies fouled on 0-2 fastball off of his front foot, and play paused for a bit with the training staff coming out to check on him. He stayed in the game, but he was limping. Albies grounded a low-and-away sinker to short for the 6-4 force. Wong tried to make a jumping throw to 1st, but Albies beat it out for a fielder’s choice. Freddie Freeman sharply grounded an outside fastball off of Dakota Hudson’s left foot and through the mound to short for an inning-ending double play. For those of you scoring at home, it went down 1-6-4-3. Dexter Fowler swung at a first-pitch outside sinker and sharply grounded it to the right side, but Albies made a good spinning play for the out. Kolten Wong struck out swinging at a low-and-away slider out of the zone for the 2nd out. Paul Goldschmidt skied a low-and-in 3-1 changeup that just made it over the left field wall despite being hit a mile high. The solo HR put the Cards up 1-0.

Marcell Ozuna went down and golfed a low-and-in 1-0 cutter into the Big Mac Land deck inside the left field foul pole for a solo HR to give the Cards a 2-0 lead. Yadier Molina grounded out to short to end the inning.

Ozuna’s HR was flat out line drive bomb.

Hudson got Josh Donaldson and Nick Markakis to ground out to start the top of the 2nd, and lost Matt Joyce to a 3-2 walk. But Brian McCann popped an up-and-in fastball to short on the first pitch to end the inning. After Matt Carpenter lined out to right to start the bottom of the 2nd, Tommy Edman worked an 8-pitch at-bat and lined a high 3-2 fastball to the gap in left-center that rolled to the wall for a double. Paul DeJong struck out swinging at a low slider. Hudson worked the count to 3-2 but struck out looking at a sinker at the bottom of the zone to strand Edman at 2nd base.

Dansby Swanson continued his hot hitting with a base hit on an up-and-in fastball to lead off the top of the 3rd. Keuchel couldn’t get the sacrifice down and struck out on 3 foul bunt attempts. Acuna sliced a low-and-in 1-2 sinker for a soft bloop to right-center over Wong’s head at 2nd base for a base hit to move Swanson to 3rd. Albies drove a middle-away fastball to the gap in right-center. Edman made a running catch and Swanson scored on the Sac Fly to cut the Cards’ lead to 2-1. Freeman struck out swinging at a changeup to end the inning. Fowler led off the bottom of the 3rd by grounding out to 2nd base. Wong struck out again in almost the same manner by swinging at a slider out of the zone. Goldschmidt popped a slider to 1st in foul territory and Keuchel got out of the inning in 9 pitches.

Hudson walked Donaldson on 4 pitches to lead off the 4th. But he was erased when Markakis grounded an 0-1 sinker into a 6-4-3 double play. Joyce flied a 2-0 high fastball to left and Hudson escaped the inning with 9 pitches. Ozuna led off the inning by smoking a low-and-in slider into the front row of seats over the bullpen in left-center to extend the Cards’ lead to 3-1.

After Molina grounded to short, Carpenter worked a 3-2 walk on a close inside fastball. The Braves made a double switch to bring in righty Luke Jackson to pitch in the #6 spot. Adam Duvall came in to play LF in the #9 spot, with Markakis moving from LF to RF. With Carpenter running on the 3-2 pitch to Edman, Edman walked on a slider in the dirt. DeJong struck out looking at a 97-mph fastball up-and-away and on the corner. Hudson struck out swinging at a slider to end the inning.

McCann lined a 3-2 sinker to the gap in right-center, but Edman ran over to get it for the first out of the top of the 5th. Swanson grounded a low 3-2 sinker toward Carpenter at 3rd down the line. Carpenter was prepared to field the ball behind the bag, deciding to hang back and field the ball on the bounce. But the ball bounced off the bag and skipped to Carpenter’s right and off the sidewall. Swanson ended up at 2nd base with a double. Hudson’s first pitch to Duvall was an inside sinker that Molina should have caught but it tailed and hit the heel of Molina’s mitt and scooted away to Molina’s left for a passed ball to move Swanson to 3rd. Molina was in pain and the training staff came out to check on him, but he stayed in the game. Duvall grounded an inside sinker right to Carpenter at 3rd, but the ball bounced off of the heel of his glove and off his chest to his left. Duvall reached first safely, with the scorer generously ruling this a base hit. This would later be changed to an error, with Duvall still being credited with an RBI. Swanson scored from 3rd to cut the Cards’ lead to 3-2. Acuna hit a first-pitch low slider for a sinking liner to left. Ozuna ran forward, reached down and made a shoestring catch at the last second for the out. Ozuna’s body language suggested he hurt his left side in the process. With 2 out, Albies skied a first-pitch middle-in 95-mph fastball into the bullpen in right-center for a 2-run HR to give the Braves a 4-3 lead.

Tyler Webb came in to pitch to Freeman and struck him out swinging at a slider in the dirt to end the inning.

Fowler gave an 0-1 slider from Jackson a ride to the track in center, but Acuna raced back to make a running catch for the first out of the bottom of the 5th. Wong looked lost at the plate, wiping himself out trying to swing at a fastball over his head and striking out in the process. With Acuna shading him to the opposite field, Goldschmidt smoked a low slider to center that rolled to the wall for a double. Submarining righty Darren O’Day came in to pitch to Ozuna, who popped an outside slider to Freeman in foul territory to end the inning.

Webb came back out for the top of the 6th. Donaldson struck out swinging at a changeup down the middle. Markakis swung at a first-pitch high-and-outside fastball and softly grounded it up the middle for a base hit. After righty Francisco Cervelli was announced as a pinch hitter for O’Day, Shildt brought in Giovanny Gallegos to pitch to him. Cervelli popped a 3-1 center-cut fastball foul towards the Braves dugout. It was Carpenter’s ball all the way. Molina raced over to try to get it, but it dropped in between them, with Carpenter missing the sliding catch. It’s not clear if Carpenter called him off or if Molina heard him if he did. Cervelli ended up working a 3-2 walk on a slider in the dirt. Pitcher Max Fried, unavailable to pitch in today’s game, ran for Cervelli. McCann struck out swinging at a slider in the dirt for the 2nd out. Swanson then walked to load the bases. Shildt decided to go to the bullpen and bring in John Brebbia to pitch to Duvall. Duvall struck out swinging at a low-and-away 1-2 slider to strand the bases loaded and give the Cards hope. Lefty Sean Newcomb came out to pitch the bottom of the 6th and retired the Cards in order on 2 groundouts and a popup.

To lead off the top of the 7th, Acuna flied a low-and-away slider for what should have been a routine out to center field. Fowler got a bad jump, losing it in the sun. He then ran forward and tried to make a sliding catch, but whiffed, with the ball getting by him and Acuna ended up at 3rd base for a triple. Albies grounded a slider right to Wong, who bobbled it, but threw to first base for the out, with Albies staying put at 3rd. Shildt brought in Andrew Miller to pitch to Freeman, who struck out swinging at low-and-away sliders for the 2nd out. Shildt ordered the righty Donaldson to be intentionally walked to bring up the lefty Markakis. Markakis walked to load the bases. Adeiny Hechavarria pinch hit for the pitcher Newcomb. He flied an 0-2 inside slider deep to the track in left to end the inning despite the fact that the TBS announcing crew thought it was a grand slam. And the Cards had hope yet again. Cards fans everywhere were amazed that we stranded the runner at 3rd.

Righty Josh Tomlin came out to pitch the bottom of the 7th. After DeJong flied out to left, Randy Arozarena pinch hit for Miller. He had an awful at-bat, swinging and missing at a 2-2 curveball in the dirt. He threw the bat at the ball, with the ball getting away from the catcher McCann to his left. Instead of running to 1st base, he decided to stand there and argue to the home plate umpire that he fouled the pitch off. It’s unclear if Arozarena would have made it safely, but he could have made it close. Then, as he was walking to the dugout, he pointed to his eyes, suggesting that the Cards challenge the call. But he didn’t know the rules, because that’s not a reviewable play. Fowler then grounded out to 2nd to end the inning, and Tomlin got out of the inning in 9 pitches.

Ryan Helsley came out to pitch the top of the 8th and looked phenomenal. McCann struck out swinging at a cutter in the dirt. Swanson struck out swinging at a low-and-away slider with a foul tip. Duvall struck out swinging at a low cutter to end the inning. This may be the last chance for the Cards’ big guns to come to the plate. After Wong swung at a first-pitch low sinker from Tomlin and grounded out to 2nd, the Braves brought in righty Shane Greene to pitch to Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt broke his bat on a 2-2 inside fastball and blooped it to left down the line for a double. Ozuna struck out looking at a 1-2 fastball on the outside corner. It may have been a tad outside, but it was far too close to take with 2 strikes. It was a tough at-bat for Ozuna. He got a bad call earlier in the at-bat on a slider that was too low that should have been called a ball, and he swung right through a center-cut fastball at which he was too late in swinging. With 2 out, Molina softly lined a first-pitch center-cut fastball toward Freeman at 1st base. Freeman seemed a bit surprised by the trajectory, and had to drift back to try for a jumping catch. The ball deflected off the top of his glove and into right field for a base hit to score Goldschmidt and tie the game 4-4.

Carpenter struck out looking at a cutter that looked a little low to end the inning.

Shildt decided to bring Carlos Martinez out there for the top of the 9th to face the top of the Braves’ order. Acuna lined a 2-2 outside slider to left field down the line. Ozuna tried to make a sliding catch, but missed and the ball bounced on the track and over the wall for a ground rule double. But the Cards would get out of yet another jam. Albies popped a 3-2 outside changeup to DeJong on the outfield grass for the first out. Freeman grounded a low slider to 2nd base for the 2nd out, with Acuna moving to 3rd base. Donaldson flied a first-pitch inside 100-mph fastball to left to end the inning, and the Cards survived another scare.

Greene stayed out for the bottom of the 9th. Edman lined a first-pitch center-cut fastball to center for a base hit to start things off. DeJong actually tried to bunt the first pitch and fouled it back to the screen. With Edman running on the 1-1 pitch, DeJong lined an outside cutter to Markakis in right. Edman had to hustle back to the bag to first base after already crossing 2nd base a bit. The throw from Markakis was strong and good, but it hit Edman, who was sliding into 1st base, and scooted toward the Cardinal dugout. Edman ended up at 2nd base, with Markakis being charged with a tough throwing error. Matt Wieters pinch hit for Carlos Martinez and flied an inside cutter to right field, too shallow for Edman to tag. Just for some drama, Fowler lined a 3-2 outside cutter to right field that was just barely foul. Then he struck out swinging at a high-and-outside cutter to end the inning and take the game to extra innings.

The Cards have yet to use Genesis Cabrera or Daniel Ponce de Leon out of the bullpen this series. Shildt decided to bring out Miles Mikolas to pitch the top of the 10th inning in relief. Mikolas did not pitch in relief during his 3 years in Japan. The last time he pitched a game in relief was on May 25th, 2014 for the Round Rock Express, the AAA club in the Texas Rangers organization. That was part of a 7-game stretch in the bullpen for that club. The last time he did it in the majors was with the San Diego Padres on July 31st, 2013, the second of only two games Mikolas pitched in the majors that year. Markakis flied a 1-1 hanging curveball deep to the track in left-center, but Fowler raced over to catch it. Rafael Ortega pinch hit for Greene and lined a 2-2 high fastball to Edman in right field for the 2nd out. McCann flied a low 1-1 curveball towards the line in right. Edman took a poor circuitous route to it, but eventually ran it down by the line to end the inning.

Righty Julio Teheran came out to pitch the bottom of the 10th. Initially left off the roster, he replaced Braves’ reliever Chris Martin on the roster after Game 1 as an injury replacement, and is making his first appearance this series. Wong sliced a 1-0 outside fastball down the left field line that bounced on the track and went over the wall for a ground rule double. Paul Goldschmidt was intentionally walked to bring up Ozuna. Ozuna broke his bat on a 1-1 inside fastball and tapped a ball to the left of the mound. Teheran raced over to field it, spun around and got the force at 2nd base. Ozuna hustled to reach on a fielder’s choice, barely beating out Acuna’s throw to 1st. Wong advanced to 3rd base on the play. With 1 out, Molina flied a first-pitch inside fastball to left in front of the track. Duvall had no chance to get Wong, who scored on the walk-off Sac Fly to win the game for the Cards 5-4 and force a Game 5.

For another angle of Yadi’s reaction:

Odds and Ends

Ronald Acuna became the 1st Brave to have a 4-hit game in a postseason series since Bret Boone in Game 3 of the 1999 World Series. Both were 10-inning games, but both players got their 4 hits within 9 innings...The Washington Nationals fought off elimination with a 6-1 win in Game 4, and the other branch of the NLDS will also have a Game 5, played on Wednesday October 9th, the same day as Game 5 for the Cardinals. This was only the 9th walk-off postseason win in Cardinal history. The others:

  • In Game 2 of the 1944 World Series against the Browns, lefty Ken O’Dea pinch hit for Emil Verban and singled off of Bob Muncrief to score Ray Sanders and win the game 3-2 in 11 innings. That tied the Cards with the Browns 1-1 in games.
  • In Game 2 of the 1982 NLCS against the Braves, Ken Oberkfell hit a drive to center off of Gene Garber that just eluded the glove of CF Brett Butler to score David Greeen from 2nd base and give the Cards a 4-3 victory in the bottom of the 9th. That put the Cards up 2-0 in the 5-game series.
  • In Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS against the Dodgers, Ozzie Smith hit a walk-off solo HR with 1 out off of Tom Niedenfuer to win the game in the bottom of the 9th 3-2 and give the Cards a 3-2 series lead in games.
  • With the game tied 4-4 in the bottom of the 12th inning in Game 6 of the 2004 NLCS against the Houston Astros, Jim Edmonds hit a walk-off 2-run HR to right-center off of Dan Miceli to give the Cards a 6-4 lead and force a Game 7.
  • David Freese hit a walk-off solo HR to center field in the bottom of the 11th inning off of Mark Lowe in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series against the Texas Rangers. The dramatic blast gave the Cards a 10-9 victory and forced a Game 7.
  • In Game 1 of the 2013 NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Carlos Beltran hit a single to right off of Kenley Jansen to score Daniel Descalso from 2nd base and give the Cards a 3-2 victory.
  • In Game 3 of the 2013 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, the Cards won 5-4 in the bottom of the 9th on a walk-off obstruction call. With runners at 2nd and 3rd and 1 out, Jon Jay grounded to 2nd base. Molina was thrown out at home. As Allen Craig was advancing to 3rd base, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw the ball away. It looked like Craig was thrown out at home trying to advance on the throwing error, but he was ruled safe due to obstruction by 3B Will Middlebrooks, who put his legs up and tripped Craig.
  • Kolten Wong hit a walk-off solo HR to right field off of Sergio Romo in the bottom of the 9th to give the Cards a 5-4 victory in Game 2 of the 2014 NLCS against the Giants.