ST. LOUIS Catchers are getting a lot of attention in this NLCS,and for good reason. Buster Posey and Yadier Molina are team leaders, All-Starbackstops and are likely to appear at or near the top of most National LeagueMVP ballots.
Its an even more intriguing matchup when one of them isyour former protg and the other is your kid brother.
I tell you, this is a privilege for me, said BengieMolina, Yadiers oldest brother and Poseys forerunner behind the plate for theGiants. And not just for me. This is a privilege for anyone who enjoys thegame of baseball. Its a joy to watch these two kids compete.
These are two catchers who can play the position and call agreat game. But its not just that. They can hit, too. They can do everything.That right there is the beauty of baseball.
Its a beauty that Bengie Molina appreciated early on. Theday the Cardinals drafted Yadier in the fourth round, Bengie predicted that hisbrother would become a superstar and the best, most accomplished of the threecatching Molina brothers. In 2009, just a week into Poseys first big leaguespring training camp, Molina understood that this clean-cut, bright-eyed kidfrom Florida State would take his job very, very soon.
It came quicker than anyone anticipated; the Giants shippedout Bengie a month ahead of the trade deadline in 2010 to the Texas Rangers.Then Poseys Giants tore through Bengies Rangers in the World Series.
Yet Bengie never spoke a jealous or resentful word aboutPosey, whom he still considers a friend.
He has to be honest, though, when asked where his loyaltieslie between the two catchers in this series.
Everybody knows what I think of Posey, Bengie told me by phone. Hesa great, great catcher, he calls a great game and I knew this kid would be asuperstar the first time I saw him. But I dont think hes up to the defensiveskills of my brother yet. My brother is in another league, and plus this yearhe really hit when the team needed him to hit.
Posey can get there. Im not putting him down at all. Hehas all the talent and he will work hard, I know that. But nobody is in aleague with my brother.
The Molina brothers will gather in Puerto Rico next monthwhen their mother, Gladys, turns 65. They would like nothing better than tocelebrate another World Series champion, too.
If the Cardinals go all the way, it would be Yadiers thirdWorld Series ring and the sixth among all three Molina brothers. (Jose won in2002 as Bengies backup with the Angels, and also in 2009 with the Yankees.)
Bengie left no doubt: Thats what he hopes will happen.
Hey, against the Reds, I was all Giants, man all Giants,Bengie said, with a chuckle. Against the Cards, Im all Cards. I love theGiants, I love the city and I love the fans, man, they have something specialthere. But Ive got to root for my brother, 100 percent, theyve got tounderstand that.
Bengie cannot help but pull for Posey, though, and not justbecause he respects him as a player and a person. Like many others, he wasfloored at Poseys determined recovery from the devastating ankle injury thatended his season in May of last year.
Very impressed, very impressed, he said. It tells you --it shows you -- what kind of a player and a person he is. It shows you hisdemeanor and dedication and his motivation to come back from that devastatinginjury, and not come back to play first base, but to catch. Hell be the MVP ofthe league.
What he did is unheard of, its crazy. But this is not newfor him. When I saw this kid, I think he can do anything.
Bengie was quick to point out that Yadier is just asdeserving of MVP consideration.
Especially for what he did for that team after losing(Albert) Pujols, and with a new manager, he said. But if Buster wins it, thatis a good choice, too.
What impresses him most about the way his brother receivesthe Cardinals staff?
Its the way he cares, Bengie said. Its what we used todiscuss all the time. I tell him, Everyone wants to be their best out there,but you have to be the best for yourself and you have to make every pitcher on thestaff be their best, too. Thats what impresses me. He makes everybody great.
Bengie said Yadier expressed frustration to him in recentdays about his lack of hitting in the postseason. He had a breakout year at theplate (.315, 22 home runs), but owns just a .138 average in the No.5 spot withjust two RBIs in seven postseason games.
Hey, I told him, Win a game with your catching, Bengiesaid. If you hit three bloopers and go 3 for 4, does that make you a greathitter? No. So dont worry about what the numbers look like. Just be positive.
Thats precisely the kind of message Bengie would deliver toTim Lincecum on the mound during both the right-handers Cy Young seasons in2008-09. Its the kind of rah-rah cheerleading that comes less natural toPosey, which is among the reasons that a struggling Lincecum has been paired sooften with backup catcher Hector Sanchez in this wild aberration of a season.
What advice would Bengie give to Buster about catchingTimmy?
Well, one of the things you have to know about Timmy is youhave to keep him very positive and very up, he said. Its about keeping himon the right track instead of letting things going through his head.
You have to talk to him almost every inning and keep him upto the challenge and keep him happy. Its a psychologist sort of thing, but asa catcher, you do that with every pitcher in different way. You have to psychehim up to go out and pitch.
Youve got to suck up your pride and go to him an say,Lets go.
Giants manager Bruce Bochy continues to insist that its hispreference, and nobody elses, that Lincecum and Barry Zito work primarily withSanchez. The manager only started Sanchez once this postseason, when Zitostarted Game 4 of the NLDS at Cincinnati and Lincecum came out of the bullpento throw 4 13 solid innings. Lincecum threw to Posey in his two other reliefappearances this postseason, tossing a total of four scoreless innings.
Bochy hasnt named Lincecum the Game 4 starter yet, nor ishe committing to a batterymate whenever Lincecum or Zito take the mound again.
Bengie was blunt, though: Its high time that Posey andLincecum, the Giants two highest profile players, work together again.
If you ask me, they need to stop this, Bengie said. Iunderstand they are keeping Posey healthy by having him play first base and notcatch all the time. But there will come a day when Brandon Belt says, This isnot fair. I want to be out there. And then youll have trouble.
They need to take control and say, Buster has got to catchTimmy and thats it. I want to keep everybody happy, but this is our team.
For now, only one of these two teams and one of these twoAll-Star catchers -- can advance to the World Series. Even in retirement,Bengie watches his brother and his former understudy and feels the stirrings ofbeing an active player once again.
Those guys, they wanted to learn so much, he said. Nowthey are so good, there is nothing left to teach them.