ST. LOUIS -- The man who will likely get the majority of playing time for injured Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina cautioned not to rule out the return of the six-time All-Star, who departed their 5-4 win over the Giants in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series with a strained left oblique.
"Don't count Yadi out," said Tony Cruz, who replaced Molina.
But at this point, it certainly doesn't look good, as Molina left Sunday night's game in the sixth inning after he hit into a double play. He barely made it out of the batter's box before doubling over in pain.
Molina departed Busch Stadium after the game for further examination. The team said that he would not fly on the charter to San Francisco, nor was there a timetable for him to rejoin the team.
"We don't know much more about it right now," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. "But [it] didn't look real good."
Molina's absence behind the plate was felt in the top of the ninth inning on Sunday when Cruz couldn't handle Trevor Rosenthal's wild pitch and the Giants' Matt Duffy dashed home from second base to tie the score at 4-4.
The Cardinals, though, outlasted the Giants, winning on Kolten Wong's home run in the bottom of the ninth to knot the NLCS at one game apiece. The series shifts to AT&T Park in San Francisco for Game 3 on Tuesday at 3 p.m. CT (watch on FOX Sports 1).
When it does, chances are that Cruz will be behind the plate. That he'll be filling in for Molina won't be anything new. Cruz filled in at catcher earlier this season when Molina needed surgery on his right thumb and missed 40 games.
The team also used veteran A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate during Molina's absence this summer and could do so again. The decision to add Pierzynski before this series -- giving the team three catchers -- certainly appears to be a wise one now.
But losing Molina, a superb defensive catcher, rated a monumental loss on several fronts, including his experience and leadership inside the clubhouse and his ability to handle the pitching staff.
"It's a big loss, but with Cruz, he's like Yadi Jr.," said Cardinals reliever Pat Neshek. "It's going to be a loss, but I don't think we'll miss him as much because of Cruz."
That's the sentiment that another reliever, Seth Maness, shared after the game.
"It's going to be huge, but we were in this position halfway through the year [when Molina was injured] … but Cruz stepped in and we didn't miss a beat," Maness said.
Earlier Sunday, Molina became the club's career postseason hits leader when he singled in the second inning off Giants pitcher Jake Peavy, giving him 89 hits in 86 postseason games. Molina had shared the club record with Albert Pujols (88 hits in 74 games).
The question that lingered late Sunday, though, was when would Molina be healthy enough to play in career postseason game No. 87?
"It's a fluke thing," said Giants outfielder Michael Morse. "You feel bad for him. He's such a great player. I hope it's not as bad as it seemed. He's such a big part of the team and you hope he gets back on the field."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.