Yadier Molina: The Ultimate Met Killer
2006 NLCS Game 7 Ring a Bell?
As you’ve read in my previous column, I made it abundantly clear that I am a die-hard fan of the New York Mets. Even if the franchise hasn’t had a winning record since 2008, I always try to find a shining light in all things Mets. That’s the way I am. I will also despise, internally of course, anyone who has done damage to the Blue and Orange Brigade over the years. Around the tri-state area, we call them “Met Killers”.
Now, despite the fact that we’ve seen a few come through over the years, such as Chipper Jones, Pat Burrell, Adam LaRoche, Jimmy Rollins, Giancarlo Stanton, just to name a few, there is only one man that really breaks my heart most of all. There is one man who took my heart and threw it on the floor. There is one athlete who took a dream away in the magical year of 2006 with one swing, subsequently ended the dream of Willie Randolph’s Mets, and ultimately became the top catcher in the National League.
His name was Yadier Molina, catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Up until that point, Yadi was the youngest of 3 Puerto Rican catching brothers: Bengie and Jose. Yadi was always known more for his defense behind the plate rather than his bat. However, Yadier already had assumed starting catcher duties for the Cardinals by the age of 25. In 2004, his rookie season, Molina made it to the World Series, the understudy to his future manager in St. Louis, Mike Matheny. However, Molina’s bat was not as polished as it needed to be, as well as injuries beginning to pile up. Going into the 2006 playoffs, Yadier batted only .216 with 6 homeruns and 49 RBIs on top of only 90 hits in 129 games. You wouldn’t really expect him to break out and be a hitting hero in the playoffs.
Surprisingly, the opposite transpired. Molina hit .308 in the NLDS against the San Diego Padres with 4 hits, including a double, and played PHENOMENAL defensively, as he picked off SEVEN batters behind the plate during the Series, including one against former Met Mike Piazza. Although his game picked up significantly in the NLDS, the National League Championship Series against the Mets really showcased what he could do.
Before the infamous at-bat in Game 7, Molina already had 7 hits in 22 at-bats with a homer and 4 RBIs in the series. It was quietly though, as not of people really took notice of what was happening in New York. Yadier wasn’t considered a threat at the dish.
Then, the infamous at-bat transpired. Aaron Heilman was on the mound. I am probably the only man who would willingly say that I’d prefer Heilman on the hill during this particular game instead of closer Billy Wagner. During the 2006 playoffs, especially in the NLCS, Wagner was incredibly underwhelming, having a 16.88 era with 7 hits and 5 earned runs given up, as well as a loss in the series, while Heilman was spotless in 3.2 innings of relief, only giving up 2 hits. I appreciated Heilman’s entire 2006 as Wagner’s set-up man and looked at him as my favorite reliever out of the pen for the Mets.
The pitch before, Heilman gave up a single to Scott Rolen, who was robbed by Endy Chavez earlier in the game with the greatest postseason catch of the modern era. With 1 out, in the top of the ninth, on a first pitch change-up to Yadier Molina, this happened:
Molina singlehandedly on one swing of the bat killed the Mets’ dreams of going to the World Series. Behind the plate, Molina masterfully led Adam Wainwright to strike out Carlos Beltran with 2 outs in the ninth to win the NL Pennant. Molina then batted .408 in the World Series to help lead St. Louis to a World Championship.
Now look at his career AFTER the homerun in 2006: 6 All-Star appearances, 7 Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger in 2013, and another World Series championship in 2011. Meanwhile, the Mets haven’t made the playoffs since that season, have gone through traumatic changes in the organization, and slowly are climbing out of the cellar. Coincidentally, some say that Molina’s homer caused Aaron Heilman to lose confidence in his abilities and was quite never the same post-Game 7 of the NLCS.
Yadier Molina turned into quite the ballplayer for the St. Louis Cardinals. However, he holds onto one statistic that will last as long as the Mets are not in the playoffs to me: THE ULTIMATE MET KILLER. I truly believe that this is the absolute truth and, especially after this column, others feel the same as I do.
(Featured Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)