This is Yadier Molina’s world. St. Louis Cardinals fans just get to live in it.
Molina drove in the tying run in the eighth inning and the game-winner in the 10th on Monday, salvaging the Cardinals’ postseason run and forcing a Game 5 in the National League Division Series Wednesday in Atlanta.
“That’s what makes him so special … an elite, special player — and that’s what he is,” manager Mike Shildt said. “This is what he trains for, what he works for.”
That Game 5 exists only because of the Monday heroics of Paul Goldschmidt, Marcell Ozuna and Molina, who combined for a not-for-the-faint-of-heart 5-4 win.
A sun-splashed crowd of 42,203 — not even a sellout, in what might be the last home game of the year in St. Louis — watched the Cardinals rouse from their offensive doldrums to avoid elimination.
In the early going, three home runs — two by Ozuna and one by Goldschmidt — tripled the Cardinals’ scoring output the previous two games. Ozuna is hitting .471 (8-for-17) with the two homers and five RBI.
“Super-happy for (Ozuna),” Shildt said “He gets hungrier and hungrier and hungrier the last couple years, to be in this position. He’s embracing it and enjoying it.”
After the Braves took a 4-3 lead in the fifth, a broken-bat Goldschmidt double and a seeing-eye bouncer off the bat of Molina — and off the glove of Braves’ first baseman Freddie Freeman — tied the game in the eighth.
Goldschmidt raced home as Molina did a fist-pumping jig near first base, producing the first extra-inning division series game in Cardinals history.
They’d played 54 division series games before Monday, dating back to 1996.
Molina’s sac fly capped the 55th NLDS game for St. Louis, coming after a leadoff double by Kolten Wong in the 10th, an intentional walk to Goldschmidt and a groundout that put Wong at third base.
The Cardinals’ win wiped away the frustration of a 3-1 loss in Game 3 on Sunday, marked by a stellar outing by Adam Wainwright and a pratfall-plagued ninth-inning collapse by Carlos Martinez.
No such histrionics on Monday, as Martinez worked around a leadoff double in the ninth to get the game to extra innings.
The Cardinals, who had scored just one run in the 18 innings of Games 2 and 3, had nine hits Monday to push the series to a deciding game in the Atlanta suburbs.
Now the Cardinals can turn their attention to a Game 5 behind ace Jack Flaherty, who lost Game 2 in uncharacteristic fashion — on the short end of a 3-0 score.
He’d allowed that many runs in an outing only once in 16 starts since June 7. In those 15 other outings, he allowed two runs twice, one run four times, and no runs seven times.
Flaherty was tabbed for starts in Games 2 and 5 of the series after having to pitch the last day of the regular season against the Chicago Cubs, throwing seven shutout innings in a 9-0 win to secure the National League Central title.
The series would be over but for Martinez’ missteps Sunday, when he had two out and one on — only to surrender an RBI double by Dansby Swanson and a two-out single by Adam Duvall, setting up the Game 4 cliffhanger for the Cardinals on Monday.
Cardinal wins in Games 1 and 4 have bookended Braves’ victories in 2 and 3, leaving it all up to a winner-take-all fifth game Wednesday.