Molina's jack leads rain-soaked win
Catcher drives in three; Pujols leaves with left calf tightness
WASHINGTON -- Yadier Molina's defense has long been beyond reproach. This year, he may finally be producing enough offense to get some recognition for his glove work.
Molina's three-run, first-inning homer continued an offensive surge and helped send the Cardinals to a soggy but satisfying 6-1 win over Washington at Nationals Park on Tuesday night. Two rain delays halted play for a total of two hours and 40 minutes, but Kyle Lohse endured both to pitch five innings for the win.
He did it with lots of help from his defense, and most notably, offensive help from some defensive stalwarts -- especially Molina. A year after an injury likely knocked him out of All-Star consideration, Molina is enjoying a better offensive season. He may fall short of selection due to stiffer competition, but he's doing all he can to stake a case.
"I have great respect for the L.A. catcher [Russell Martin], but I don't know who's better than those two guys," said manager Tony La Russa.
An early outburst, keyed by Molina, and a lingering injury chased Nationals Opening Day starter Odalis Perez after three innings. St. Louis scored four runs before Lohse even took the mound, and the game was never close after that.
"We did a good job taking advantage of Perez," Molina said. "Everybody knows that he's going to throw a strike, so we came out ready to swing. Every pitch close to a strike we were swinging, and we made good contact."
A hit batter and an error put two men on for Ryan Ludwick, who doubled in the first run. After Troy Glaus grounded out, Molina cranked his third long ball of the year, making it 4-0.
Molina's two hits brought him up to a .295 batting average on the season, with a .362 on-base percentage and a .386 slugging percentage. That's well short of the gaudy numbers being put up by Martin and the Cubs' Geovany Soto, but the Cardinals believe that Molina's defense more than makes up for any offensive gap.
And lately, Molina has been on an offensive tear. Since the start of May, he's 30-for-93 (.323) with 16 RBIs, 10 walks and only five strikeouts.
"It's the same thing [as earlier in the year]," Molina said. "Every at-bat, I'm just trying to make a good swing and get a good pitch. I just try to concentrate on my game and my team right now. I don't look at the All-Star team or numbers."
He's solidified the sixth spot in the St. Louis order, though, and on Tuesday, he was a key contributor.
"He's having a great year so far, and I hope he keeps it up," Lohse said, "because that's a big boost having that defense with the offense and the game calling. That's a good mix, right there."
After each delay, the Cardinals came back with a run. They picked up a tally in the fourth on a double steal, as Rick Ankiel took off for second, allowing Cesar Izturis to steal home. In the fifth, Lohse singled home Glaus, who had singled before the second delay.
Ankiel entered the game as a pinch-runner for Albert Pujols, who was removed after the first delay due to tightness in his left calf.
"It felt like a lot of work," Lohse said. "But it was worth it. We needed to start the road trip off good, and I think we did. Even though it's a little late."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.