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Notes: Molina thriving at, behind plate

Notes: Molina thriving at, behind plate

ST. LOUIS -- It hasn't been the best postseason for several Cardinals hitters, but St. Louis has received a welcome surprise at the bottom of the order in October. Thanks to a relaxed mindset and a willingness to stay back and hit the ball to the opposite field, Yadier Molina has been one of the Cards' best hitters in the playoffs.

Molina entered Saturday night's Game 3 of the National League Championship Series with an 8-for-19 (.421) mark thus far in the postseason, and he had driven in three runs. He had only eight hits from Sept. 8 until the final game of the regular season on Sept. 30.

"I've been working with [third-base coach] Jose Oquendo on trying to get back, trying to see the ball better and trying to hit the ball the other way," Molina said. "And I'm getting some results, so I'm happy for that."

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The Cardinals remain enamored of Molina's defense, and manager Tony La Russa maintains that offense is simply a bonus from his Gold Glove-caliber catcher. But it's been a deeply welcome bonus thus far.

"It's [been] very frustrating sometimes this year when the hits weren't there," La Russa said. "He experimented a lot. But he's got something that's working and he's also shown, as a lot of good hitters do, they can look out over there but if you pitch him inside, he can pull the ball. So it's a nice approach, and it's getting results."

Molina is the type of hitter who's just about always tinkering, trying to find the right adjustment. So being able to relax and trust his swing is as crucial as finding the right stance or approach. He says he's currently in a place where he has that peace of mind.

"You have to trust yourself and you have to believe that you can do it," Molina said. "That's happening right now with me. I'm confident. My confidence is 100 percent up."

Pujols redux: Albert Pujols' comments from Thursday night regarding Mets lefty Tom Glavine remained something of an issue on Saturday, though La Russa is clearly tiring of the topic.

Still, though the manager wasn't pleased with Pujols saying that Glavine "wasn't good at all," he continued to stick up for his slugger. La Russa essentially argues that it's not possible for a player to compete with full intensity and then display full grace shortly afterward.

"A lot of times, the best quote-masters, you'd like them to turn their [competitive] fires up a little bit," he said. "Because it's tough. Especially that game, it was Game 1 and we gave up two runs. We've got to win that game. If you're an offensive player and [you think], 'Hey, what's the big deal?' then that's wrong."

Rolen returns: Scott Rolen was back in the lineup on Saturday, a day after he was benched due to a slump through the early part of the playoffs. Rolen, also slowed by a left shoulder injury, entered Game 2 of the NLCS as a defensive replacement and made an impressive play in his only inning on the field.

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"I saw him dive and make a play [on Friday]," La Russa said. "That's a healthy indication about what his shoulder feels like -- that he was not restricted and it was a heck of a play. To me, he's just got to find his stroke. He's an outstanding player, and you always give an outstanding player benefit of the doubt."

Rolen acknowledged his surprise and frustration with the move on Friday. La Russa said Saturday that he hoped there would be no lingering issues -- but that he doubted the people covering the team would let it all go.

"I guarantee you it's not passed, because members [of the media] are not going to allow it to pass," he said. "They're going to keep stoking it. I think the healthiest thing is, if I have a complaint, I talk to him, and if he has a complaint, talk to me. Instead of third parties."

More tweaking: Reinstating Rolen wasn't the only move La Russa made on Saturday. Scott Spiezio, who delivered two big hits as Rolen's replacement in Game 2, started in left field in place of Chris Duncan. Preston Wilson, who started in left in Game 1, moved over to right in place of Juan Encarnacion.

"I thought Dunc would be a push," La Russa said, noting the rookie's 1-for-10 start to the playoffs. "I think So [Taguchi] could give us a good game if he played today. But I just don't think you can ignore what Scott [Spiezio] does when he starts a game for us."

Wilson often sits against right-handed pitchers, but he is 8-for-20 with three home runs against Game 3 Mets starter Steve Trachsel.

This date in Cardinals history: On Oct. 14, 1985, Ozzie Smith enjoyed his signature offensive moment. With one out in the ninth inning in Game 5 of the NLCS at old Busch Stadium, Smith hit a solo homer off the Dodgers' Tom Niedenfuer to give St. Louis a 3-2 win and a 3-2 lead in the series. Smith's homer was immortalized by Jack Buck, and Buck's still-famous "Go crazy, folks!" call.

Coming up: Game 4 will take place on Sunday at Busch Stadium. First pitch is set for 7:05 p.m. CT with Cardinals rookie right-hander Anthony Reyes facing Mets lefty Oliver Perez.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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