Molina marks rare cleanup assignment with 100th HR

Cardinals catcher slugs game-winning homer as part of three-hit night

Molina marks rare cleanup assignment with 100th HR

ST. LOUIS -- Thin on middle-of-the-order bats given the growing crowd in the trainer's room, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny chose to take an unorthodox approach when selecting a cleanup hitter for Wednesday. Matheny settled on Yadier Molina, he explained before the team's 4-3 win, not because of any potential power factor, but rather banking on experience and familiarity with Giants starter Matt Cain.

That's as complex a reason as he could find.

"We just don't have that guy right now," Matheny noted pregame. "We're not necessarily looking for that guy to go in and hit home runs."

Six hours later, Molina blasted a solo home run to propel the Cardinals to a series victory.

Ironic, isn't it?

"Believe me," Molina said afterward, "I wasn't looking for a home run either."

Molina's 100th career homer

Intentional or not, the timing was spot on. Molina's solo shot off reliever Hunter Strickland came one inning after the Cardinals scratched across the tying run in a much more methodical way. Molina, who had earlier delivered an RBI single off Cain and thrown out another runner from his knees, took a curveball for a first-pitch strike before getting the same pitch again as he led off the eighth.

That one he deposited some 399 feet away for his second home run in three games and 100th of his career. Thirty of those home runs have broken a tie game.

"You always dream about your first homer and your 100th," said Molina, who was drawn out of the dugout for a curtain call. "I was glad that it came at a good time and was able to help my team win."

Molina has been doing a lot of that lately. He contributed a homer in the Cardinals' one-run, series-opening victory over the Giants, which came six days after a go-ahead RBI triple helped the Cards sink the Pirates. But this was his first opportunity to assist from the cleanup spot, a place he had last occupied June 21, 2014.

In 16 previous career starts as a cleanup hitter, Molina had never gone deep.

"He continues to do things that make us get on our feet," Matheny said. "He's just one of those special kind of players, and when he gets going, he does special things."

Matheny on Molina, Garcia in win

"We're so fortunate to have him," added starter Jaime Garcia. "Hopefully he can continue to do what he's been doing offensively, which adds on to what he already does defensively. He's the best."

Molina became the seventh different cleanup hitter deployed by Matheny. Jhonny Peralta, with 42 starts, has hit there most frequently, though he's been needed in the three-hole during Matt Holliday's absence. Matt Adams, Jason Heyward and Randal Grichuk all filled the spot when healthy. Mark Reynolds and Brandon Moss have, too, though neither has gained much offensive traction.

And so it became Molina's for one night. Asked if he liked the feel of it, Molina smirked.

"Obviously," he began. "I got three hits."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.