St. Louis Cardinals

Gotta ask: Has Yadi meant more to the St. Louis Cardinals than Albert?

Yadier Molina is the best catcher of his generation, a future Hall of Famer, beloved by St. Louis Cardinals fans.

Now he can add a little more shine to another entry on his resume.

Postseason hero.

The Cardinals are playing Atlanta in Game 5 of the National League Division Series Wednesday because of two at-bats Molina took in Game 4 Monday.

He singled home the tying run in the eighth inning, then hit a sacrifice fly to drive in the winning run in the Cardinals’ 5-4, 10th-inning win over the Braves.

Molina, who has played 1,983 regular-season games and 93 more in the postseason, had no trouble deciding where Monday’s win ranks for him.

“Right at the top, obviously,” said Molina, 37, a 16-year veteran who is the unquestioned leader of the Cardinals clubhouse. “We really needed this win.

“We came out ready. We were facing a good team in Atlanta, but we believe in ourselves and we were ready to go.”

Molina has been remarkably consistent – a .282 hitter in the regular season and batting .281 in the playoffs – but he reached new heights in the late going Monday.

Trailing 4-3 with two outs in the eighth – four outs to go in the season, basically – Molina bounced a single over Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman to score Paul Goldschmidt from second.

The ball glanced off the top of the 6-5 Freeman’s glove, rolling into right as Goldschmidt raced home, the Cardinals dugout erupted and Molina did a fist-pumping, chest-pounding two-step at first base.

Two innings later, Molina hit a sacrifice fly to deep left to score Kolten Wong in the bottom of the 10th, then raced toward second base in a failed bid to elude a clot of Cardinals who found him, pounded him and then praised him.

“It’s what this guy lives for, you know?” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “This is exactly what Yadier Molina lives for, this is what he trains for.

“Clearly, he’s going to have a lot of personal accomplishments, rightfully so. I’m sure they mean something to him. (But) Yadier Molina is about winning and winning championships, period. Special.”

So special, his decade and a half in St. Louis is beginning to raise another question: Has he been a greater Cardinal, and more integral to their success, than former teammate and good friend Albert Pujols?

Remember, it was Molina, not Pujols, who hit a two-run, ninth-inning homer in Shea Stadium in the 2006 NLCS against the New York Mets, winning the pennant for the Cardinals en route to their 10th World Series title.

But for all his success at the plate, he makes many more contributions (noticed and not) behind it.

“That’s what makes him so special – great player, all phases,” Shildt said of the nine-time Gold Glove winner. “Did it behind the plate (Monday). Helped navigate the relievers through it. Did a nice job with Dak (rookie starter Dakota Hudson), who I thought did a nice job as well.

“But that’s what makes you an elite, special player. That’s what he is.”

No argument there from the Atlanta dugout.

“This guy’s a Hall of Famer,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He hits to the situation, stays within himself, doesn’t try to do too much. (Use) all the clichés, everything, that’s him.

“I mean, he’s a ballplayer. He plays the game. He plays the game in front of him probably about as good as anybody.”

The next game in front of everybody comes at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Atlanta. And Molina knows Monday’s heroics won’t mean as much if the Cardinals’ postseason run comes to a close.

“We got a bunch of guys that want to prove something,” Molina said. “We battled, we worked hard to be in this position. We’re tied 2-2 and we got a big game on Wednesday.”

Spoken like a player not done adding to his resume.

Joe Ostermeier, chairman of the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America, has written about the Cardinals for the News-Democrat since 1985.