© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

10/09/06 1:20 AM ET

Molina turning it up in postseason

Cardinals catcher finding hitting stroke at best time

ST. LOUIS -- Over the last six months, Yadier Molina didn't produce many stellar offensive moments. The catcher struggled throughout the season, hitting below .250 for the year and never finding a smooth stroke.

Molina has turned everything around in the playoffs, becoming one of the critical sources for a team that has often had trouble finding consistent offense.

"We talked about that before the regular season is over," Cardinals second baseman Ronnie Belliard said. "I said, 'Yadi, man, you're going to get hot at the right time.'"

Belliard was correct -- especially for Game 4. Molina finished with two key hits, helping the Cardinals capture a 6-2 victory over the Padres on Sunday and advance to the National League Championship Series for the third consecutive year and fifth time in seven seasons.

"He was huge this whole series," backup catcher Gary Bennett said. "Not just tonight, but the whole series."

Overall, he hit .308 (4-for-13) in the NL Division Series, propelling the Cardinals to their third victory in four games and providing another strong bat at the bottom of the lineup. And he also provided terrific defense and called four great games.

"I feel good," Molina said. "I started hitting better. But that's not my job. My job is defense. If I go 0-for-4 and my team wins, that's all that matters for me."

And Molina provided one of the critical plays of Game 4, throwing out the always-dangerous Dave Roberts leading off the fourth. With the game tied at 2, Roberts singled against St. Louis starter Chris Carpenter. The speedster tried to steal to put himself in scoring position, but Molina uncorked a bullet to second base that nailed Roberts and elicited a standing ovation from the crowd.

Molina also helped the pitching staff compile a terrific 1.50 ERA in the series, including a perfect 0.00 mark from the bullpen.

complete coverage
Home  |  News  |  Video  |  Audio  |  Photos

"We're going to the [NLCS] and we are going to win it together or lose it together," Belliard said. "And I think of Yadier, we're friends. .... I think he is a good player. I know he has been struggling all year, stuff like that. But he picks it up. He got a hit in every game. He made a lot of good plays in the four games of the postseason."

Offensively, Molina had been struggling most of the season with bad luck or swinging at bad pitches. One of the slowest runners in the game, he often hit balls hard, but right at people. In the last few weeks of the season, manager Tony La Russa indicated that Molina was taking strong at-bats.

On Sunday, Molina swung at two strikes -- and crushed them. In the second inning, he blasted a double, and he provided a sixth-inning RBI single that helped the Cardinals break open the game.

"This what it is all about," Albert Pujols said of his close friend's play. "It's the playoffs."

And Molina's all-around play helped the Cardinals extend the playoffs for at least one more round.

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.