Mike Matheny said the Cardinals looked “off” during Thursday’s 9-1 loss to the Pirates. Matt Carpenter called the game “strange.”
But all involved denied that the hangover-type performance was linked to the head-spinning news of the day, that All-Star catcher Yadier Molina may be done for the season with a torn ligament in his thumb.
And while Molina probably doesn’t make an eight-run difference Thursday, it was unnerving to see the Cardinals fall victim to rampant runners, errant infield throws and balls trickling towards the backstop the day their all-world catcher went down.
The Cardinals' anchor is gone and now Tony Cruz, often kept in the dugout, just in case, heads a vastly untested two-man crew behind the plate.
“Tony (Cruz) is an accomplished big-league catcher, who has caught in big situations,” said Matheny, who is a sort of expert on the subject. “I certainly have a lot of confidence in him.”
Cruz is a converted third baseman who has been Molina’s backup for three seasons, but for the first time the Cardinals may need to rely on him predominately in the starter’s role. He’s gained the respect of his teammates and management by devoting himself to the School of Molina.
He watches video with Molina every day and pitchers say he has the same approach to pitch calling.
“Cruz hangs out with Yadi every single day,” righthander Shelby Miller said. “They watch video together. They have the same exact idea of what they want to do against hitters. I have confidence in both of them.”
“Cruz is a guy we all trust,” he added.
But Cruz didn’t get off to the best start Thursday.
Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen stole two bases in the first inning, effectively turning a single into a triple before scoring the game’s opening run.
Later, chaos resulted from two balls squirted in front of the plate, one resulting in an infield hit after an errant throw by pitcher Tyler Lyons, the other a wacky force play that saw centerfielder Jon Jay stepping on second base.
On the first, there was confusion as to who would field the ball. On the other, there was confusion on where the ball was going.
In the sixth, the Pirates scored on a passed ball when Cruz couldn’t handle one of Lyons’ inside breaking balls.
The Cardinals weren’t making excuses, but the usually well-oiled machine of their up-the-middle defense kept catching gears.
“We’re not going to hang our hat on something like that and say we lost tonight because we found out Yadi would be out for a while,” Carpenter said. “That’s certainly not the case. He’s a hard guy to lose, but we have to continue to move forward.”
Since 2011, the Cardinals are 275-203 when Molina starts and now 50-51 when he doesn’t. The team has allowed 240 fewer stolen bases than any other team since Molina became its regular catcher. He was 17-for-35 in throwing runners out this season, which at 48.6 percent, leads the majors.
Cruz, who was unavailable for comment on Thursday, entered the game having thrown out two of six would-be-base stealers.
The night ended with him at a much more pedestrian two-for-eight, although both times Miller, owner of the most lethargic delivery on the staff, didn’t give his catcher much of a chance.
Miller has now allowed 10 of 15 attempted base stealers to make it safely this season. Nearly 42 percent of successful steals against the Cardinal pitching staff have come with Miller on the mound.
“His times are up a little bit,” Matheny said.
Matheny came to Cruz’s defense when asked about the passed ball.
“It was nowhere close to the glove,” Matheny said.
• Carpenter’s wrist didn’t show any issues after jamming it while diving for a ground ball Wednesday. Carpenter singled in three at bats after being cleared to stay in the game, and started Thursday, going 1 for 3 with an RBI.
• The four selected players — Molina, Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Pat Neshek — and Matheny were presented with their All-Star jerseys Thursday. This year’s National League uniform shirt features a navy front and scarlet back, with gold-bordered navy numbers and gold lettering.
• The 43,974 tickets sold Thursday pushed this year’s attendance past the two million mark, making the Cards the third NL team (Giants, Dodgers) to hit the plateau.