CINCINNATI -- Loathed as much at Great American Ball Park as he is loved and lauded back home, St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina rarely fails to give the Cincinnati faithful some moment to boo about. He didn't disappoint them Saturday night.
The reaction he got from a sellout crowd, the second of the season for the Reds, was most revealing at a pivotal moment when he made a catch few immediately realized.
The ballpark went silent.
It's hard to boo what cannot be believed.
Molina had the homer and two hits that helped put the Cardinals ahead and one of the two catches that kept them there in a 6-3 victory against Cincinnati on Saturday.
In the seventh, as the Reds staged their second threat in as many innings, the tying run got into scoring position with Todd Frazier, the hitter who won Friday's game for the Reds, at the plate.
Frazier nicked a two-strike, 100-mph fastball from Carlos Martinez to apparently stay alive in the at-bat. It took him and home-plate umpire Vic Carapazza a beat to realize Molina had snared the foul tip for an inning-ending strikeout.
"It's huge, timing-wise," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "The mechanics behind it are really just natural. You either can do that or you can't. It's not something you train for. That's the results of having phenomenal, phenomenal hands. ... A guy who aggressively stabs at the ball doesn't even get leather on that, or busts his thumb."
All Molina did was grip the game.
"I got lucky," he said.
Frazier's strikeout in the seventh, just like Ryan Ludwick's strikeout in the sixth, left the tying run stranded at second base. And each unplugged the partisan crowd of 41,583.
The Cardinals added later runs to secure Jaime Garcia's first win since May 2013 and the 10th of his career against the Reds. Garcia struck out seven and pitched 52/3 innings in his second game back from shoulder surgery. Trevor Rosenthal claimed his 15th save of the season with a one-out turn in the ninth inning.
The victory put the Cardinals a win Sunday night away from their 11th series victory in their past 12 against the Reds.
Garcia (1-0) and Molina worked together to use the Reds' early aggressiveness to the lefty's advantage. He pitched around a double in the first inning and needed 13 pitches to get his first three outs of the game. It took him 33 outs to get nine consecutive, and he finished the fourth inning on 46 pitches, 34 of which were strikes.
At one point, Garcia retired 12 consecutive Reds, and he had pulled his first 15 outs of the game in only 18 batters. As quickly as he worked through the first five innings, the Reds swiftly turned on him in the sixth.
The first three batters of the inning reached, and only a leaping catch from second baseman Mark Ellis kept Devin Mesoraco from tying the game. Mesoraco poked what appeared to be a line-drive base hit to shallow right -- until Ellis jumped to snare the ball for the first out.
"It looked like he jumped twice his height," Matheny said.
Garcia faced one more batter and struck out lefthanded hitting Jay Bruce on the 75th pitch of his start. That left one to get, Ludwick at the plate, and Matheny calling for his bullpen.
Three days before calling Martinez into Saturday's most unsteady moment, Matheny had watched the righty blow his fourth lead of the season and remarked how the reliever had to be sharper from the first pitch. He couldn't ease into decisive moments.
The opponents came up there geared to see his fastball and ready to mash. That's what the Arizona Diamondbacks had done to reverse a lead on him.
Martinez came into the sixth inning Saturday with the Reds threatening to do something similar -- flip the game on Garcia. The righty fell behind 2-0 to Ludwick. Martinez worked back into the count and fed Ludwick a breaking ball that slid out of the zone. Ludwick chased for the strikeout that ended the threat.
"Great opportunity for Carlos to get us out of a big spot, one in which he did," Matheny said. "You see it was a different look right from the top."
With the bullpen shorthanded by Kevin Siegrist (forearm strain) on the disabled list and short of innings, Martinez stayed in for the seventh. He allowed two singles, and his wild pitch allowed the tying run again to reach scoring position.
Frazier's three-run homer Friday night turned that game against Shelby Miller, and a base hit would have done the same Saturday. He thought he had another chance when he tipped Martinez's two-strike heat. Molina held on.
At second base, former Cardinal second baseman Skip Schumaker turned to Ellis and "we were both marveling that he caught it," Ellis said.
Playing to the archetype the Reds fans have for him, Molina led off the fourth inning with a home run that put the Cardinals ahead 2-0. The Cards stacked the lineup with righties to face lefty Tony Cingrani (2-4), but had to make some last minute adjustments when Peter Bourjos became ill.
He was sent back to the hotel to rest -- and avoid contaminating the clubhouse -- and Jon Jay was inserted. The sudden sub had three hits, including two RBI singles off lefties to extend the Cardinals' lead. He and Matt Adams contributed RBIs in the eighth inning.
Molina opened that inning with a single to spark the rally and bring the boos.
"They boo me for some reason," Molina said. "I don't know why. I mean, I do know why. It's been four years."
Molina is referencing, obliquely, the skirmish he had with Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips that became a brawl and a flashpoint for this rivalry.
But it's more than that. In 131 games against the Reds, he has 15 homers. Ten of them are at Great American Ball Park, where he's hit .325.
Three of his five homers this season have come against the Reds.
"I tell them to keep booing. Just to myself," Matheny said. "It seems the louder they get the better he gets."
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